Editorial: There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the pandemic isn’t over yet

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Photo: Maximo Aguilar Lawlor

Emerson students receive hand sanitizer outside Tutfs testing location.

By Editorial Board

Pandemic fatigue is rife around the globe after enduring more than a year of sacrifice and isolation. In the past year, we’ve been forced to give up parts of our lives as college students that we previously took for granted—sitting at a bar with friends, visiting our family over holiday breaks, traveling, and studying abroad at Kasteel Well—and day by day, the weight of what we’ve had to give up grows heavier, as does the desire to return to normalcy. 

It’s safe to say that most of us are anxiously awaiting the pandemic’s end, and it’s understandable that people are becoming antsy. And that end could finally be right around the corner. 171 million vaccines have been distributed thus far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and President Biden expects all adults to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by April 19. The vaccines have the ability to end this pandemic, for good—but only if we can effectively mitigate spread in the meantime.

Despite the fact that nearly 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. are now vaccinated, cases have still been steadily rising. In the past two weeks, cases have jumped 14 percent across the country. Thirty-seven percent of Massachusetts residents have received at least one dose, yet there has been a 15 percent increase in cases throughout the state within the past 14 days. This trend is concerning and can be partly explained by a newfound relaxed attitude toward the virus as vaccinations roll out.

Here on our own campus last week, we saw the biggest spike in positive COVID-19 tests to date over both the fall and spring semesters. By April 3, there were 26 positive tests reported for the week—with 22 of them across just three days. Needless to say, now is not the time to go to that party.

Vaccines are available to the general public starting on April 19, and some students have already been vaccinated due to medical conditions or their jobs. But continued spikes like this could lead to serious setbacks. The Emerson student body is capable of containing the spread, and has done so fairly successfully throughout the past school year. With the light at the end of the tunnel in sight, now is not the time to slip up and let our guard down.

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CDC Director Rochelle Wolensky confirmed Wednesday that the B.1.1.7 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom has become the dominant variant of the virus in the U.S. B.1.1.7 is believed to be both more transmissible and more deadly than the variants of the virus that first circulated in the U.S. more than a year ago. Massachusetts now also has the most cases of the P.1 variant first discovered in Brazil. That variant spreads more quickly than other variants but scientists are unsure if it is more deadly or if it could reinfect those who have already been infected with the virus. 

It’s obvious that most, if not all, of us don’t want to see another lockdown like we did this time last year. According to the World Health Organization, the percent of a vaccinated population needed to begin inducing herd immunity is not known. So for now, all we can do is try to effectively curb spread and get vaccinated, then hope the virus will die out. If we let our guards down and begin returning to old habits before it’s safe, then we will be in a much worse place from where we started a year ago. For the vaccine to do its job, we have to give it a chance to work. 

It’s easy to see the consequences of slipping into unsafe practices, as states like Texas rapidly reverse health protocols and mask mandates. Perhaps the biggest contributors to rising cases are lifted restrictions on capacity in businesses and restaurants. Just because some state officials are making these unsafe decisions does not make it medically sound to return to normal. Here in Massachusetts, restaurants are now open to full-capacity seating, despite the CDC maintaining that indoor dining remains a high-risk activity. 

We are more than fed up with this doom-and-gloom reality, but sadly, that is the world we currently live in. There is reason for hope, though; epidemiologists The Beacon spoke to in March project that “things can get pretty much back to normal by the fall.” But this does not mean the work of eradication can fall solely on the shots we will all, with any luck, be getting in our arms very soon. We can’t give this virus any wiggle room. The burden of responsibility falls on the vaccinated, as well as the vaccine. 

We desperately need a return to normal—to get back the months of life experience we lost, to protect the most vulnerable members of our community, and to allow the industries and businesses we love to thrive. We deserve the parties, the Tam, and the privilege to be recklessly young. And we are so close, it’s in sight—there is so much to look forward to in a post-COVID world. But to do that, we have to do the work not to go backwards.  

Stay home, if you can. Stay masked. Stay safe. The end is near.

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