Eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, the United States is back where it started. Concerns about an overrun health care system have been revived, and states are issuing stronger lockdown restrictions.
Finally tamping down the virus and regaining some semblance of normalcy will require dedication from all citizens. This is not a matter of government oppression; it is a matter of doing our best to ensure public health, allowing hospitals to work efficiently and getting to a point where the economy can fully reopen.
That message has not changed during the eight months in which COVID-19 has upended daily life. But with infection rates quickly climbing, it has taken on added urgency.
"We are in as dangerous a position today as we were in March," Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday during a brief statewide televised address. "We cannot wait until our hospitals' halls are lined with gurneys waiting for rooms before we take decisive action."
In Washington, that action includes a recommendation that families forgo holiday gatherings. Contract tracing has demonstrated that the recent spike in infections is largely driven by small get-togethers rather than large, public gatherings. "What's most urgent right now, tonight, is what we do in our own dwellings," Inslee said.
On Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued orders that limit all bars and restaurants to takeout only, closes gyms and limits gatherings to no more than six people from two different households. Inslee said Thursday that new restrictions likely are coming in Washington, as well.
As of last week, more than 123,000 coronavirus infections had been confirmed in Washington since the start of the outbreak, and more than 2,500 deaths had been attributed to the pandemic.
Experts say that colder weather has pushed gatherings indoors, increasing the spread of the virus. Infections have steadily been increasing since September, but there has been a surge in the past two weeks.
This is despite that fact that Washington and Oregon have been more effective than most states in slowing COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both states rank in the bottom 10 in terms of infections per capita, both since the start of the outbreak and over the past seven days.
Such success must not lead to complacency. "Accelerated growth in cases in past two weeks ... at this point in time, it's the highest number of cases we've ever had, and our case count is accelerating," Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state's health officer, said last week.
A glimmer of hope amid the darkness of the pandemic has arrived with news of potential vaccines that have shown promise during trials, and Inslee said: "This is a temporary situation. We will get back to normal. The cavalry is on the way, but we need to keep people alive until it gets here."
That calls for patience, calm and personal responsibility. Masks should be worn in public, and people are reminded to socially distance and frequently wash hands with soap and hot water. If you are ill or have coronavirus symptoms, stay home. And remember that many people who are infected might be asymptomatic.
The goal is to avoid what has happened in several other states, where hospitals are at or near capacity. Staying healthy will require responsible actions by all of us.