Let's start with "congratulations."
It's been nearly 15 months since Oregon's first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in a Washington County man at a Hillsboro-area hospital. Since then, life as we know it has been turned on its head.
Early on, we had "two weeks to slow the spread." Later, in the fall, we had the "two-week freeze," which turned into four weeks, which turned into the by-now-familiar risk levels and county-by-county metrics.
For roughly one calendar year, most kids stayed home from school, learning instead through a combination of online course materials, live and prerecorded lessons, and a great deal of asking Mom and Dad for help. School sports were canceled last spring and compressed this school year into abbreviated, overlapping schedules with no state playoff tournaments. Other activities, like school plays, Scouting, chess club, dance and more, shifted online or were simply put on hold.
Businesses have suffered. While many have survived thanks to lifelines from an atypically beneficent Congress and support from the Oregon Legislature, the pandemic has been tough on family-owned small businesses and larger companies alike. Many customers have changed their shopping habits, ordering online — often through third-party sites — instead of shopping at brick-and-mortar stores or dining in at restaurants. And not every restaurant has been fortunate enough to offer outdoor dining; many have shifted to takeout or delivery models only, laying off wait staff and cordoning off seating areas.
And in ways that we likely won't fully understand for years to come, we have all grappled with what the pandemic means for us. Everyone has been deeply affected by lockdowns, disruptions and the anxiety of not knowing when life will feel normal again. Many people have lost someone they cared about. Some have lost more than one. Some people have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Some still struggle to pay the bills and dread the end of Oregon's eviction moratorium, which lawmakers keep pushing back but can't extend forever. Many, especially young people, have lost a vital year-plus of personal development, social growth and effective learning. Many more have lost untold time with aging relatives and friends.
But last Friday, Washington County celebrated a major milestone in our long battle against the coronavirus: With more than 65% of the population having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Washington County was cleared to move to "lower risk," relaxing restrictions imposed to reduce viral transmission and paving the way for a more complete return to normalcy in the not-too-distant future.
This wouldn't have been possible without so many Washington County residents stepping up and doing the right thing by getting vaccinated.
It's going to take a collective effort to reach effective "herd immunity," the point at which the virus cannot spread within the population because it has too few opportunities to infect people. As many Oregonians as possible must volunteer for the vaccines — which medical professionals, researchers and regulators have concluded, after exhaustive studies and large-scale human trials, to be both safe and effective — for us to achieve maximum efficacy in thwarting the enemy that has plagued us since February 2020.
We also extend our kudos to Washington County Public Health, which has negotiated a crisis for which few were prepared and is now focused on closing the gaps between demographics and ensuring everyone has access to the vaccines — as well as to agencies like Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and nonprofits like Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and Medical Teams International, which have worked to get shots in arms throughout the region. Their work has been invaluable and will continue to be of great importance as we progress toward the (hopefully) final end of COVID-19 restrictions.
This isn't to say the pandemic is over. In parts of the world, the crisis has never been more acute than in recent weeks. Even here, we're not entirely out of the woods, as experts warn that this fall could be a difficult one — especially for those who have chosen not to get vaccinated — if the virus surges again, as we have seen it do several times already.
But that makes it all the more important to get vaccinated now, if you haven't yet. There's no cost to be vaccinated, and vaccines are now widely available in clinics and pharmacies. If you have concerns about the vaccine's safety, turn to trusted sources and filter out disinformation from rumormongers and conspiracy theorists. And if you get at least your first dose by June 27, you're eligible for a cash prize up to $1 million through a special lottery, which sounds pretty good to us, too.
And to everyone: We're looking forward to seeing you out and about this summer, at a farmers market, at a festival, at the ballpark, out to lunch and wherever else our paths may cross. The perseverance of our community made this turning point in the coronavirus crisis possible — let's savor it.
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