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Still plenty of work to be done

The long-awaited reinforcements in North Carolina’s battle against COVID-19 will soon be here.

Earlier this week, we learned that the first shipments of COVID -19 vaccines will be arriving in North Carolina within the next couple of weeks. That means members of our community who need it most — frontline medical workers, first responders, those with multiple comorbidities and others who are particularly vulnerable to the virus — will be among the first in line receive an injection that has the potential to save many lives.

But don’t be fooled: While the vaccine may contribute to a breakthrough in our collective efforts to eradicate the coronavirus, it certainly isn’t a cheat code that will make the virus go away. We still have plenty of work to do, especially given that many North Carolinians won’t qualify to receive the vaccine until we’re a few months into 2021.

In Beaufort County, the need for vigilance has never been higher. Based on our seven-day and 21-day average case counts, the county is in the middle of its largest-ever wave of coronavirus cases. Beaufort County Health Director Jim Madson said it’s possible that Thanksgiving gatherings contributed to that wave, but he was unsure about how big of a factor it was. If it turns out that Beaufort County residents did get infected with the virus around that time, Madson said we could see increased community spread now and in the weeks to come.

That serves as a stark reminder for all of us to stay alert as the holiday season progresses. Health officials have been advising people to minimize their holiday gatherings, which is now even more relevant given our rising COVID-19 numbers. And remember this: As of Dec. 1, 17% of individuals in Beaufort County who tested positive for COVID-19 reported that they were asymptomatic. In other words, almost 300 people likely wouldn’t have known they had the virus if they hadn’t been tested.

So although we can breathe a small sigh of relief as the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines begin across the state, it’s prudent to realize that our battle with COVID-19 is still far from over.

Let’s continue making every effort to protect our neighbors and ourselves. With some extra attention to COVID-19-related precautions this holiday season, combined with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Beaufort County has a chance to make considerable strides in its efforts to curb the pandemic.