Every day, it seems that more good news is coming with regards to our ongoing fight against the COVID-19 virus.  Hospitalization rates are dropping, more and more vaccines are being administered, and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was just approved.  All of this is incredibly promising and hopefully signifies the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic.  However, I want to remind everyone: we still have a long way to go.  Although it may be tempting, we must not let our guard down now.

            As cases and hospitalizations decrease, the state will begin relaxing COVID-imposed restrictions.  As it does so, the onus will be on each and every one of us to continue making smart choices to prevent COVID’s spread.  As the weather gets warmer and state restrictions are eased, it may be tempting to also ease our own compliance with the public health measures that have gotten us this far.  Having large gatherings with friends, packing into bars and restaurants and even not wearing a facemask are luxuries that we certainly all miss.  Yet, in order to sustain the progress we have made against COVID, we must continue to be vigilant about our own behaviors.

            Make no mistake: the threat that COVID poses, while receding, is far from over. Hospitalizations may be decreasing but the virus still is infecting over 350,000 Marylanders.  Our state has made great progress in the early stages of our vaccination rollout but we have a long way to go before we reach herd immunity in Maryland.  Additionally, the new strains of COVID appear to be much more virulent, meaning an outbreak of any of them could rapidly overwhelm our hospitals.  It remains to be seen if the vaccines provide protection against the new strains of the virus that are emerging, although preliminary data suggests that they do.

            Please, even as the state eases restrictions, continue to maintain your vigilance.  Masks still need to be worn, social distancing needs to be maintained and hands need to be washed frequently.  I realize that this may be frustrating to hear.  After more than a year of COVID-imposed lockdowns and other public health measures I am sure many of you are eagerly looking forward to the day when we can all go back to the way things were.  It is tempting to point to decreasing hospitalizations and positivity rates as evidence that the fight is won and public health measures can be discarded.  While we have made great progress against COVID, we are not quite out of the woods yet.  Although the metrics are certainly promising, poor personal choices can quickly alter their trajectory.

            As we enter what will hopefully be the final chapter in the COVID pandemic here in Maryland, the onus will increasingly be on all of us to ensure that the progress we have made so far is not lost.  One day, the COVID pandemic will be over and we can attempt to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle.  I certainly look forward to that day but getting there require our continued vigilance and compliance with public health measures for the foreseeable future.

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