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Now is not the time to be complacent about COVID-19 | COMMENTARY

Beachgoers visit Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, February 15, 2021.
Beachgoers visit Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, February 15, 2021. (TNS)

The state is making some strides in containing COVID-19 with declines in positivity rates and hospitalizations. Baltimore’s tough on COVID mayor has even been convinced to lift some restrictions on restaurants he had put in place because of the spread of the virus. Vaccinations, as rough and slow as the rollout has been in Maryland, should also continue to contribute to reduced cases in the state. But that’s only if we don’t become complacent.

With spring break upon us, and many people hitting a pandemic wall and the urge to escape their homes, the temptation for some to let down their guard will be strong — and we just can’t go there unless we want to lose the progress we are starting to see. Public health officials are already warning of popular destinations such as Florida turning into super spreader events. That’s what happened last year when 60 college students contracted the virus after a spring-break trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Health experts are pleading with people not to make the trip this year, especially because of new highly transmissible variants. Unfortunately, many probably won’t heed the advice. Photos of the international arrivals at Cancun’s airport making the rounds on social media this month show a sea of what appears to be college-age young people standing shoulder to shoulder as they wait to move through customs. That’s the same place Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was caught fleeing to as his constituents dealt with massive power outages in super cold temperatures.

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Marylanders don’t have to look to Texas and Mexico to see that we are in no way near the end of this pandemic. False positive test results earlier this week resulted in precautionary quarantines of state senators. Thankfully, more reliable lab tests came back. The University of Maryland, College Park, suspended in-person classes this week and instituted a “sequester-in-place” order because of coronavirus clusters. Some wondered on social media if students were not following safety precautions when off campus. We bet they weren’t.

But that is what it is going to take until enough shots are in people’s arms. The U.S. has surpassed 500,000 known coronavirus-related deaths, more than in any other country in the world, and that is nothing to celebrate. Social distancing. Masks. Limited indoor gatherings, outside of live-in family. That is what is needed until vaccines are readily available. Unfortunately, the process for getting one of the vaccines is far from easy in Maryland, as the state hasn’t managed the distribution well from the start. Health officials seem to be in constant catch-up mode. Like this week when Gov. Larry Hogan changed his mind to support a single, waitlist for the limited number of doses. This comes after weeks of being against the idea. Except it is not exactly the most centralized system when it only includes the state’s mass sites, like M&T Bank Stadium and Six Flags America, and excludes pharmacies, health centers, hospitals and other sites. At least it will make it a bit easier for the not so tech savvy, including the elderly, to get a shot at securing a spot. The best chance at landing a vaccine appointment, however, will still involve people scrambling, searching and monitoring many websites. So much of it is still dependent on luck, chance and timing. Good start, Governor, but the waiting list still doesn’t go far enough and was a little late in its execution.

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Nor, is the state doing a good job at addressing inequities, as four times the number of white residents are getting vaccines compared to Black residents. During a tour of the vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium, Governor Hogan tried to take Baltimore to task for getting an unfair share of shots: “As of last week Baltimore City had gotten far more than they were really entitled to,” Mr. Hogan said. He failed to mention that many of the doses went to hospitals and medical staff who don’t live in the city and that Baltimore is behind and facing real racial disparities.

Given the lack of a better sign-up system, we can only hope that more vaccines become available soon — something that is out of the state’s control. Good news toward making that happen came Wednesday when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has met the requirements for emergency use authorization. Two weeks ago, President Joe Biden said the U.S. will have enough coronavirus vaccines for 300 million Americans by the end of July. Seems a long time away when American lives have been thrown into disarray for more than a year. But at least there is some kind of end in sight. Let’s do our part to make sure we get there safely.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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