The news that drug-maker Pfizer has developed a vaccine that has proven 90 percent effective in its early clinical trials is good news at a time when good news is hard to come by.

Since the beginning of November, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed, with a million new cases reported over the past 10 days (a record one-day total of 140,543 reported Wednesday). All 50 states are recording increases. Hospitalizations reached a new high of 61,69 Tuesday, a record eclipsing the previous high mark in April by more than 2,000 patients.

Where hospitalizations increase, deaths often follow. Over the past six days, the U.S. has averaged more than 1,000 deaths per day, a rate which thankfully seems to have at least leveled out for now.

The news of a vaccine is something we’ve been hoping and waiting for since the pandemic first arrived in the U.S. in February. For the first time, there is reason to be hopeful an end is in sight.

But in many respects, the challenge we face now is the greatest since the pandemic arrived.

Our leading medical experts warn that even under the best-case scenario, it will be five months before the vaccine is widely available to the population. The challenge is vaccinating a population of 330 million people. It’s one thing to have a vaccine available. It’s quite another to distribute it.

As we have grown desensitized to the toll of the virus – and there’s some reason to believe we have – we are more inclined to grow careless in our efforts to guard against the disease. And with a vaccine in sight – even if it’s well down the road – we might be tempted to let our guards down even more.

The longer we labor under precautions, the more we yearn for the return of our normal rhythms of life. With Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, we are even more tempted to put aside the precautions we know are important in fighting the virus.

That’s a dangerous thought to entertain. Unless we recommit ourselves to measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and limiting our exposure to those outside our households, the death toll could double over the next several months.

State and local governments must continue to mandate precautions and extend them when the data indicates further measures are necessary.

This means there may be empty chairs around the Thanksgiving table this year, which should be considered a sad necessity.

Even so, that prospect is infinitely preferable to empty seats that may never again be filled.

So let’s reaffirm our commitment to the challenge before – for ourselves, for our families and loved ones and our community.

Regardless of your political leanings, these are small prices to pay for the greater good, especially for those whose lives the virus threatens most.

We may be able to see the finish line on the horizon, but the race is far from over.

The Dispatch

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