It’s not exactly local, but the reopening of Broadway theaters marks a significant milestone in the COVID pandemic. For the first time in 18 months the world’s premiere theater district will be entertaining guests.
There’s a small mirror of that step in the reopening of Eau Claire’s downtown Micon theater. While Broadway is a clear economic engine, the effects at the local theater are largely confined to those who work there and are able to once again bring in a paycheck from the job. The wider effect in the Chippewa Valley is more about morale than money.
Attempts to return to a pre-pandemic approach are showing up in other areas, too. Look at all the vapid accounts of the Met Gala and the VMA awards this week. It’s as vacuous as ever, with the inherent silliness of best-dressed lists contrasting sharply with the concerns the rest of the nation has. It was one thing we didn’t miss in the least over the past 18 months.
This wave of COVID infections isn’t the worst Wisconsin has seen. That peaked in November of last year. It hasn’t seen the highest rate of positive tests, either. But it has perhaps been more disheartening, more of a grind given the fact it represents a stark reversal from this past spring and the hope vaccinations brought.
Before the Delta variant arrived, most Wisconsin counties had dropped out of the high activity category. Some were recording very few new cases indeed. Now more than half of Wisconsin is once again at very high transmission, with the rest rated by the Department of Health Services as high transmission.
There’s some suggestion in Wisconsin’s numbers that the worst of this latest wave of COVID may be passing. It’s too early to be sure — the data that shows a dip is still preliminary — but there’s reason for hope. And there’s reason to think we’ll need that shift.
Several Wisconsin counties are already showing signs of an early start to the flu season. Influenza was suppressed to a remarkable degree last winter. The combination of masks, distancing and near-obsessive levels of hand washing held down that virus to a remarkable degree.
What we’re finding out is the same thing previous generations found out in past pandemics. The toll the uncertainty takes is cumulative. It’s a grind. People get worn down as the months pass. Unlike those past generations, though, we have a way out that’s entirely under our own control.
Vaccinations in Wisconsin got a bump over the past several weeks. Several factors likely played a role. The full approval of Pfizer’s vaccine probably drew some people off the fence. Fear of the rising numbers made the choice for others. And the uptick was widespread. It included boosts in Taylor and Clark counties, which have by far the lowest vaccination rates in the state.
More than 55% of Wisconsin residents are now vaccinated with at least one dose, and 52% have completed the vaccination series. The biggest single factor holding back the state’s percentage is the fact that no vaccine has been approved for those ages 11 or younger. The caution is well warranted — children are not miniature adults in terms of their physiologies — but the effect is clear. Two-thirds of adults have had at least one dose of a vaccine.
While the continuing challenge of the pandemic can be disheartening, it’s also important to remember the progress we’ve made. Broadway wouldn’t be opening without that progress. Eau Claire’s downtown theater wouldn’t, either. We’ve come a long way.
There’s risk in thinking things are over, that there’s an inevitable path back to normalcy just around the corner. But there’s also risk in thinking that we’ve been sent back to square one. Neither of those is true, nor is either a particularly helpful way of looking at things.
We know people are tired of hearing about the need for caution. We’re tired of it, too. For now, though, it remains good advice. So weigh what risks you’re willing to take. Wear masks in public settings. Keep washing your hands.
Everyone is tired. But tossing caution to the wind isn’t a good decision. Not when we’ve come this far.