EDITORIAL: Stay safe: Restrictions are easing, but precautions still vital

Texas and the Rio Grande Valley have reached some unfortunate milestones in the past few days. The state recently reported its 1 millionth case of COVID-19; it’s the only U.S. state to reach that level of infections so far. Closer to home, Hidalgo County last week announced its 2,000th COVID-19-related death, and Cameron County surpassed 25,000 total cases.

Clearly, the novel coronavirus is still widespread across the Valley and the country and the risk of infection remains high. Indeed, many parts of the country are beginning to see a third spike in viral infections and federal health officials warn that the pandemic still could reach levels we haven’t seen before as colder winter weather drives many Americans indoors where they are in closer proximity to others and are breathing recirculated air. In addition, we are entering the holiday season, when many families and friends plan traditional get-togethers, go out on holiday shopping trips or simply want to share the special days with others.

The holidays are particularly communal along the border, where many people participate in neighborhood posadas and tamaladas and families receive family and friends from Mexico who are on extended year-end vacations.

Feeding the temptations to continue such traditions are recent local and state decisions to ease many restrictions on public gatherings. Local cities and counties have lifted curfews and allowed bars, restaurants and other businesses to open or enlarge their capacity. Remote learning will end for many students after the Thanksgiving holiday, and they will return to their schools for the first time in more than half a year.

Obviously, those steps don’t mean we’re in the clear or that we can be any less diligent in the steps we take to keep protecting ourselves and those around us. By now we should know better.

After all, a similar easing of restrictions last April sparked a resurgence of the virus, as many people perceived their new freedoms as an indication that the threat was over; they stopped wearing masks and started spending more time outside the home, returning to stores and restaurants they had forgone for several weeks.

That lack of caution and the resultant spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths hit the Valley especially hard, as people flocked to local beaches and other venues to enjoy the late spring and early summer weather. Many paid the price with their lives, and forced a reimposition of public lockdowns and mask mandates.

Fortunately, good news seems imminent. A few drug makers have announced tests for COVID-19 vaccines have showed promising results and they might be made available to the public early next year.

In the meantime, social distancing, mask wearing and greater attention to hygiene should be developed habits by now, and those habits should continue. We shouldn’t need public officials to tell us to keep taking care of ourselves.

Continued caution can enable us to enjoy the holidays without putting our health, and our loved ones, in danger.