As the year wanes, and I feel the undeniable nighttime chill that signifies approaching winter, I’ve been reflecting on the past year’s challenges, particularly those that the novel coronavirus has brought.

We’re headed into our first winter in a pandemic, and I think it’s safe to say the cold weather and the increased necessity for people to be indoors will contribute to the spread of the virus. At the same time, it seems a vaccine is forthcoming with a significant number now in efficacy trials, but we still have no timeline for their availability.

It’s interesting to me how starkly COVID-19 has highlighted the public’s various stances on handling potentially harmful situations. Most people I know fall into two camps. They are either completely willing to wear a mask no matter what, or they are willing to wear a mask, but they don’t feel the government should be able to mandate the practice. And no matter their feelings on masks, most people seem willing to respect others’ stances. Some feel the virus spreads very easily through air and via surfaces, and others seem to think it’s not quite that contagious, but it seems most folks agree that they don’t want to get sick themselves or transport the coronavirus home to vulnerable loved ones.

I was dismayed to learn that the president and first lady had contracted COVID-19, and I think no matter what our politics are, wishes for a quick recovery are in order. By the president’s account, he seems to be headed in that direction. At the same time, I see his condition as a wakeup call for the rest of us to continue keeping protocols and precautions in place. If the virus can so significantly affect the leader of the free world, despite his access to some of the best health care providers, Americans in general are definitely still at risk.

In New York, which was possibly the hardest-hit city in the world during the height of the pandemic, public schools are already beginning to close as the case numbers trend up again. Those schools opened just days ago, and I can’t imagine the angst teachers, parents, students and school officials must feel as they face another closing. I feel fortunate to live in a place where the virus was contained to an extent that I was able to send my public school student back to the classroom and felt safe doing so.

I think as reported cases began to fall in a lot of hotspots across the country, the general public eased up in its nervousness over infection and thus in its observance of safety measures. We’re certainly due a little mental and emotional relief, but it’s hard to know exactly how to attain those things during a pandemic. I can say with confidence that the way to go about it is not to decrease mask and hand sanitizer use, though. An approaching change in seasons brings us into unknown territory, and safety, even in areas that weren’t nearly as impacted as New York City, is still paramount.

New precautions like a bottle of hand sanitizer in my car console and a package of paper masks in the storage area in my driver’s side door will be in place indefinitely. A hesitation to touch keypads on my infrequent grocery store trips will remain. And a new vigilance about my own health will persist — the random scratchy throat or runny nose will continue to be more of a concern than it ever has in the past.

So, as we prepare for another season with the coronavirus, I hope the grace I’ve seen most people extend to one another continues, even as we tire of the continuous precautions and the mental wear that the risk of sickness brings. And I hope Americans stay watchful as we prepare to see what the cold weather brings in regard to the spread of the virus. Stay safe and vigilant.

Elizabeth Crumbly is a newspaper veteran and freelance writer. She lives in rural Northwest Georgia where she teaches riding lessons, writes and raises her family. You can correspond with her at www.collective-ink.com.

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