News of two potentially highly effective COVID-19 vaccines comes just in time. People are tired. We know we are.

The imperative to stay apart and prevent the dangerous virus from leaping from host to host has cost beloved local businesses and institutions that depend on human interaction dearly.

Medical and retail workers, first responders, and others have had to work among the public in spite of the danger. The disruption and uncertainty inflicted on our families, students, and educators by COVID-19 is life-changing. And looming over the wreckage is the galling, heartbreaking death toll, a quarter million souls and counting, that likely could have been curtailed with coherent federal leadership.

Potential remedies in the offing power an urge to throw caution aside, but that is the worst thing we could do as the fall surge bears down. Earlier this week, it was reported that new cases of COVID-19 nationwide leapt by 1 million in just six days. In heartland states, where some leaders downplayed the virus and safety measures, sick and dying patients now overwhelm hospitals. In Northwest Pennsylvania counties, new cases are increasing every day.

So far, the state is not calling for sweeping lockdowns. Health Secretary Rachel Levine instead announced on Tuesday stricter mask-wearing guidelines and protocols for those traveling to Pennsylvania.

Those opposed to mitigation measures have said safety should be treated as a matter of individual responsibility. So be it. That means the outcome of these last perilous months depends on how we behave. Those who continue to privilege their freedom over their neighbors’ lives represent a danger to themselves and others.

Contact tracing is one of the most important ways to corner the virus and stop its spread. But we are learning that valiant and strained county health department workers no longer have the capacity to perform contact tracing on every new individual who tests positive for COVID-19.

Erie County is asking residents who test positive to help out — assess who they were in close contact with two days before their diagnosis and let them know that they might have been exposed to COVID.

Local hospital officials have repeatedly said they have the capacity and supplies to treat a significant influx of COVID-19 patients. The concern is that when flu season hits, the combined threats could potentially overwhelm the health care system.

It is in our power to stop that from happening. Follow the protocols, and if you test positive, let those around you know.

— Erie Times-News (TNS)

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