It’s been two years, but surely you remember March of 2020 well.
You may even recall shaking your head in disbelief on the 5th of the month when The Arnold Sports Festival became Ohio’s first major event forced to ban most spectators and partly cancel as fears of coronavirus spread.
Here we are nearly two years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
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Perhaps by chance, on the recommendation of Columbus Public Health, the city of Columbus is expected to lift its indoor mask mandate a day after The Arnold, “the largest multi-sport event in the world,” wraps up today.
The move follows the announcement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new COVID-19 guideline allowing most Americans to go maskless indoors.
How did we get here?
The 2020 Arnold was just the start of a nightmare that upended livelihoods and left millions without family members.
The setback, heartbreak and disappointment that began two years ago once seemed out the realm of possibility.
It really couldn’t be all that bad.
Surely government officials — including Gov. Mike DeWine, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Dr. Amy Acton, then the director of the Ohio Department of Health — were being too caution, going overboard.
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It was that bad and the hospitalizations and deaths that followed show they didn’t go overboard.
Despite a backlash that grew over time and at points verged on violence, officials followed the science.
- DeWine declared a state of emergency March 9, 2020 after three people in Ohio tested positive for the virus.
- When a fifth case was reported just three days later, DeWine and Acton ordered schools to close, banned nursing homes and state psychiatric hospitals from having visitors and prohibited gatherings of more than 100 people.
- In the days that followed, restaurants were ordered closed to dine-in customers. Bars, movie theaters, indoor water parks, indoor trampoline parks, barbershops, tattoo parlors, beauty shops, bowling alleys, fitness centers, gyms and recreation centers were ordered to close.
- Families and friends were told not to gather with those who did not share their homes.
- Non-essential businesses were ordered to shut and stay-at-home orders were issued.
- Toilet paper, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer became must-hoard items. Before the year ended, self-quarantine, social distance, herd immunity, PPE, flattening the curve and ‘Wine with DeWine’ became common utterances.
Have we reached the endemic?
A new variant could come along to set us back again, but many experts expect COVID-19 is entering an endemic phase. According to Yonatan Grad, Harvard University associate professor of immunology and infectious disease,s that would not means the virus has vanished, but that enough people have gained immunity from vaccination or natural infection.
At a press conference, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, cited the nation’s arsenal of tools to fight COVID-19 as the reason for the new guidance. They include COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, broader testing, higher quality masks, access to new treatments and improved ventilation equipment.
“Over 200 million people have received a primary vaccine series and nearly 100 million have been boosted and millions more have had prior disease. With widespread population immunity, the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower,” she said. “Now, as the virus continues to circulate in our communities, we must focus our metrics beyond just cases in the community and direct our efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe illness and preventing COVID-19 from overwhelming our hospitals and our healthcare systems.”
Masks were recommended for people living in areas of substantial or high transmission under the CDC’s old guidelines.
The agency’s new guidance considers hospitalizations, the number of beds occupied by COVID patients, hospital capacity and caseloads.
Under the new metrics, 70% of Americans live in areas of low or medium risk, according to the CDC.
Face coverings on public transportation are still required until at least March 18 when the mandate is set to expire. .
Is this the new normal?
This feels different, but it has felt different before.
Mask mandates have been lifted and other precautions were dialed back before, only to be reinstated due to outbreaks of the COVID-19 variants Omicron and Delta.
There is hope that we’ve turned a corner.
More than 20,000 masked spectators were expected to attend The Arnold, which draws athletes from around the globe to compete in 60 sports.
“It’s a testament that we can host large, safe events in Columbus and shows the state, country and even an international stage that things are happening in Columbus,” Brian Ross, president of Experience Columbus, told the Dispatch last week.
Time has proven that officials were right to tell Arnold organizers to cancel the expo in 2020.
There have been 950,000 American deaths – nearly 37,000 Ohioans included — from that virus that spreads person-to-person and can inflict severe damage to cells and tissue that line the air sacs in lungs.
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We cannot stress enough that we are not out of the woods.
Cumulative Covid-19 deaths per capita are higher in the U.S. than other large, high-income countries, according to a New York Times analysis of data.
Those countries include Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Japan.
Coronavirus is still among us — Ohio on Wednesday reported 1,171 new COVID-19 cases — but as President Joe Biden said as part of his State of the Union address Tuesday, severe cases are at their lowest nationwide point since July.
The nation has reached “a new moment in the fight against COVID-19” that’s closer to normalcy, Biden said before TV cameras and a room full of mostly maskless lawmakers.
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Time will tell if we are really at that moment in the fight.
We cannot predict the future, but we can follow the science and hope this episode will soon be behind us.
What do you think about the where we are in the COVID-19 pandemic?
Should Columbus drop the mask mandate? Do you feel safe without yours? Is it simply time to move on? Let us know in a letter to the editor of 200 words or less. Email letters to [email protected]. Include your full name, city of residence and a daytime phone number for consideration.
Editorials are The Dispatch Editorial Board’s fact-based assessment of issues of importance to the communities we serve. These are not the opinions of our reporting staff members, who strive for neutrality in their reporting.