hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial December 2021-January 2021



Be thankful, be merry, but try to be cautious


As we enter this holiday season amid a swirl of bad news about the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge that our situation really is substantially better than at this time a year ago.

The difference mostly boils down to one thing, but it’s huge: We now have vaccines. And for many among the substantial majority of us who are fully vaccinated, that means activities like traveling and gathering for the holidays are much less risky than they were last December.
Even so, the risks are not zero. There are a disturbing number of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, even if relatively few of these cases result in serious illness. And it’s hard not to be discouraged by the slow pace of our climb out Covid – especially for those of us who’d hoped it would be behind us by now.

Lately we seem to be sliding backward. As November turns to December, new infections have been soaring across most of the counties in our region, and new Covid deaths are being reported locally every day or two.

Vermont, despite having the highest vaccination rate in the nation, set a one-day record for new infections, reporting 604 cases on Dec. 2, the day this issue goes to press. Bennington County is posting the highest infection rate in the state, fueled in part by an outbreak at the Crescent Manor nursing home, where 71 infections and three deaths had been reported as of Dec. 1. Rutland County’s infection rate is nearly as high.

Just across the state line, Washington County has had the highest per-capita rate of new infections in New York for at least the past two weeks, and Warren County is not far behind.
At the same time, the world and national headlines in the final days of November have been dominated by the emergence in southern Africa of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, which some experts fear could be more transmissible than its predecessors.

With so many troubling trends, there’s a certain emotional appeal to the idea of just ignoring Covid and trying to go back to pre-pandemic life, come what may. But following that impulse will only prolong the suffering for all of us.

The key to putting the pandemic behind us remains the same, whether here or in Africa: Take steps to curb the spread.

Getting vaccinated, or getting a booster shot, helps to curb the spread. Yes, vaccinated people can still contract and spread the virus. But when compared with the unvaccinated, they’re much less likely to contract it, and they’re much less efficient at spreading it.

Wearing a well-fitting facemask helps to curb the spread, though it works better if everyone else wears one too. Masks are still required for travel on planes, trains and other public transport, and this helps to reduce the risk of travel. Even if it’s not required, however, wearing them in other indoor public spaces is still a good idea.

Finally, avoiding large indoor gatherings helps curb the spread. At least among the vaccinated, public health officials say small gatherings of friends and family pose comparatively little risk. But the risks increase with the number of people and households involved.

The advent of Covid-19 vaccines means we’re all freer to enjoy the holiday season than we were last year. But we also need to remember that real risks remain – and to take precautions to limit those risks.



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