We will never be able to social-distance COVID-19 out of existence — the attempt to do so is neither practical nor possible.

But does this mean that we should stay-at-home, self-quarantine, continue to restrict commerce and build a wall around our county indefinitely, or until a panacea, a vaccine, is found? This, too, is not the answer. Yes, there have been recent and encouraging results with early vaccine trials, but even at this, a universal inoculation would be months in the making, and likely much longer.

Tens of thousands of people across North Carolina, including dozens in the High Country, have confirmed cases of COVID-19. The number, in all likelihood, is much larger. Hundreds of people across our state have died from the virus, adding to a global total of more than 297,000 deaths. These numbers are sobering and they represent real suffering, pain and concern for each of us.

But also sobering is that there is considerable pain and suffering in the measures we have undertaken so far to lessen the virus’s threat. And while these measures — grounded in science and healthcare protocols — are accomplishing this, the resulting threat to our livelihoods and societal surety is escalating. Continuing on this course, we run the risk of making the cure near parity with the disease.

It is important to remember, and especially so for our municipal leaders and county commissioners as they consider restrictions, that the point of the stay-at-home order and self-isolation directives were to flatten the curve — to prevent hospitals from being overrun and having to triage patients. It was not to prevent everyone from ever contracting the virus. So far, in North Carolina, that has been successful.

Further, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen has said repeatedly during the past two weeks that statewide hospitalization numbers have remained level and that state leaders feel our hospitals have sufficient capacity to handle the state’s COVID-19 cases.

Given these indicators, it is time to move to a new phase of managing the pandemic, and one that includes securing the lives of not only those at-risk from the virus, but all of us in the High Country. This must be done through sensible and science-based measures that will allow us to resume work, education and recreation.

Of course, none of this will be zero-sum. If what we do next results in a surge of hospitalization rates, than by all means, the state and county may need to re-institute restrictions — the “dimmer switch” to which Gov. Roy Cooper has referred.

But ultimately, it must be a personal decision and not an impractical public mandate. If you are at high risk or don’t feel safe going out, you should stay home or reduce travel as much as possible; and employers should be encouraged to work with those in such circumstances to the greatest extent possible.

With a vaccine possibly a year or so away, we will have to learn how to do business, visit our loved ones and live our lives with new safety measures and behaviors. With guidance from our healthcare professionals and our scientific community, we can and will accomplish this.

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