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How to combat this ‘dark time’ in the coronavirus fight

The nation now is approaching an important intersection of good and bad news — one that will require an extra dose of vigilance. 

Photo of COVID-19 test specimens.
Lab technicians verify the information on COVID-19 test specimens at Utah Public Health Laboratory in Taylorsville on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Americans are tired.

Last week marked the eight-month anniversary of the day the novel coronavirus became a constant companion to daily life — one that has forced changes in how people interact, how they conduct business, what they do for entertainment, how they worship and how they interact.

For many, this is becoming exhausting.

And yet, the nation now is approaching an important intersection of good and bad news — one that will require an extra dose of vigilance.

Cases are spiking at unprecedented levels in Utah and across the United States, growing by more than 1 million in one week alone. Utah’s 1,971 cases on Monday may have been lower than those of recent days, but the figure still is troubling. Intensive care units are bulging with patients, and deaths are rising proportionately. Yet, the level of hope has never been higher.

On Monday, Moderna announced it has a vaccine that is 94.5% effective against COVID-19. This comes on the heels of a similar announcement by Pfizer of a vaccine with 90% effectiveness. Both are remarkable announcements that signal the end may be near.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to let down our collective guard, nor does it mean governments should begin loosening restrictions.

It is, rather, a time to double down. Despite pandemic fatigue, no one should want to become infected when a solution is dawning on the horizon. More importantly, no one should want someone else to become infected because of one’s own neglect or thoughtlessness.

The end may be near, but it is not here, yet. Data must be analyzed. Safety concerns must be considered. The FDA must give final approval. Those behind the vaccines know they have to get this right.

Early indications are that, regardless of which vaccine, people will need two injections, spread several weeks apart. Both companies hope to have 20 million doses available by the end of the year, but that won’t be nearly enough to cover the entire population. The nation has to decide who gets it first, and who must wait.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told The Associated Press that, despite the hope of effective vaccines, “we’re also at this really dark time.” It may take many weeks for final approval.

When asked about the surge by NPR last week, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams blamed “pandemic fatigue.” In many places, such as Utah, the economy started to shut down early, when cases were few.

“And so you’ve had people who’ve been doing these things since February, March, April, but they didn’t really start to see the wave until later on. And they’re just plain tired,” he said.

But the virus doesn’t care how tired you may be. It doesn’t care that people are protesting in front of the governor’s house in an unseemly effort to claim their rights are abused.

It won’t care that you feel canceling a large family gathering for Thanksgiving would be too burdensome.

Instead, it will go on infecting people, leading to long-term health problems for many, and death for a few.

When the pandemic finally ends, the time will come for questions. Did governments react too strongly too quickly? Should mask mandates and other best practices have been enforced more strictly? How could health officials have handled things differently or given more accurate advice early on? How could authorities have kept a tighter lid on harmful misinformation?

A thorough assessment could bring understanding and closure, and it would help future generations better react to the next pandemic.

Until then, however, Americans can’t lose focus. Everyone should do his or her part to keep the virus from spreading.