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Enjoy your vacation, but…

Niagara Gazette

Coronavirus was just surging across China this time last year — more than 1,770 deaths had been tallied since the outbreak began in December — and was seeping over oceans and across borders into other parts of Asia. Americans exposed while on a cruise ship were being flown by chartered jet from Japan to quarantine for two weeks at Air Force bases in Texas and California.

Here, families with kids were decamping for ski slopes, a couple days in Toronto or maybe even a warm beach, that is if they were traveling for February vacation, likely unaware or unconcerned about the health threat percolating on the other side of the world. And the wild card in a presidential election nine months distant appeared to be a conflict with Iran. How quaint.

This February break is different, of course. As much as we may long for a vacation where we don’t have to worry about masks or social distancing or any other pandemic precautions — and as much as we are rightly encouraged by recent news about vaccinations, COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalization rates — we’d all do well to follow safety protocols and make sure we avoid yet another coronavirus spike on the other side of this vacation week.

Earlier this month, Public health officials in five Western New York counties sounded a warning about upcoming school break — both in February and the later break in April — and how travel surrounding them may impact COVID-19 infection rates in the region.

“Reducing the risk of travel-based cases, and reducing the spread of variant COVID-19 strains to and within Western New York communities is one part of our collective COVID-19 response,” the five public health directors said in their statement. “Our departments are strongly discouraging travel to areas of the country with high rates of COVID-19 transmission, known cases of variant COVID-19 strains, or areas that do not have COVID-19 safety measures in place.”

Most of us don’t need such reminders.

But, for the record, since we last went on February break, the virus labeled SARS-CoV-2 has altered human existence with an efficiency like nothing else in our lifetimes.

The number of deaths attributed to this virus globally has grown in a one year to nearly 2.4 million. In the United States, which leads the world in reported cases of COVID-19, with 27.5 million, the number of lives lost to the virus in one year now approaches the size of the population of Sacramento, California. That includes more than 250 people who have died in Niagara County.

All of those tallies don’t reflect the depths to which a pandemic has changed our physical and mental health, inflicted tragedy upon families and friends who’ve lost loved ones, interrupted our businesses and work lives, and rewired our communities. Scars from this pandemic will be visible for generations.

Sure, all of us could use a vacation.

We do have something real to celebrate, after all. The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, having spiked around the holidays and at the new year, has returned to levels last reported in early November. The number of people in the hospital due to the virus has fallen to levels last seen in early December.

Any progress is fragile, however, at least until many more of us are vaccinated. And the coincidence of the CDC’s guidance coming on the same day that some families leave for vacation — potentially for activities that will toss another log or two on the fires of this pandemic — was not lost on us.

So, for yourselves, and for the rest of us, enjoy your break. But please be safe and be careful.

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