new year's eve

The red rose of Lancaster’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

THE ISSUE

This is the 366th and final day of 2020. At midnight — in much quieter fashion than we’re used to on New Year’s Eve — we will enter 2021. The flip to a new calendar comes as Pennsylvania, for just a few days more, remains under temporary additional restrictions that have closed indoor dining, bars and movie theaters, among other businesses. COVID-19 has surged nationally during the year-end holidays and has now killed more than 341,000 Americans this year, according to Johns Hopkins University. Lancaster County’s death toll in 2020 surpassed the 700 mark this week.

If we get misty-eyed tonight, it’s not because we’re sorry to see 2020 go. There is no fondness in our hearts for this year of death, social upheaval and economic devastation.

Instead, we might get choked up when the clock nears midnight and we utter that symbolic countdown because it means we’re entering a year of greater hope and promise.

2021.

It just sounds better on so many levels.

Has there ever been a year more eagerly anticipated than the one we’re about enter? It has a low bar of excellence to clear, of course. 2021 doesn’t need to be idyllic, just better than 2020.

As with Thanksgiving and Christmas, it will be a subdued holiday tonight. No crowded bars or ballrooms. No city streets packed with revelers. We can’t fill our homes with friends and family to laugh, sing, watch a rockin’ broadcast and see the dropping of the ball in New York’s Times Square.

At least, we shouldn’t be doing any of those things in large gatherings or with people from outside our immediate households. It’s a drag, but a necessary concession. We are still in an incredibly dangerous moment of a deadly pandemic.

We must maintain our vigilance and continue to follow the commonsense guidance of the health experts trying to steer us to the safe shores that will mark the end of the COVID-19 storm.

Vigilance is needed for the safety of ourselves, our families, our neighbors — and especially for the health care workers who have been pushed to the brink of their physical and mental endurance in 2020. They do not want January to be a repeat of the surge in positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths that marked December here and around the nation.

Please think of them and stay home tonight.

Renee Logan Heller, a local registered nurse, made this very plea in the Dec. 20 Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline Perspective section. She described the levels of exhaustion and despair she and others have been dealing with for nine months.

“When I work my 12-hour shifts, I’m sweating so hard, the moisture drips into my eyes and rolls down my back due to all the personal protective equipment I’m wearing,” she wrote. “My feet hurt, my head pounds. There’s no time to grieve for a lost patient because I have three others who need life-sustaining care as well.”

We must ease their burden — and can help do so simply by having a quieter New Year’s Eve for once.

Our modest levels of sacrifice should seem even easier now, because there is hope on the horizon for 2021. Safe and approved vaccines are here. They are being administered. Many of us will have to wait some months for our vaccination, of course, but the eventual end of this health crisis is finally visible on the horizon.

We just have to continue to heed the health guidelines — mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing — until enough of us are vaccinated to make it safe to return to the kind of everyday lives we once knew. The lives we led before 2020.

And there’s this comforting news: The additional restrictions that Gov. Tom Wolf put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during holidays will be lifted — as planned — on Monday morning. Those additional restrictions have halted indoor dining; closed gyms, casinos and theaters; and suspended school sports and extracurricular activities.

The temporary measures “had the intended effect of reversing the alarming upward spike experienced early this month,” Spotlight PA reported. “The state reported 8,984 new cases Wednesday, down from the peak of more than 12,000 seen in mid-December.”

We just have to be smart about how we go about our lives when we return to the less-restrictive mitigation orders Pennsylvania had prior to Dec. 12.

“The hope is that the flattening we see now will continue into January,” Wolf said.

He added that we are by no means “out of the woods.”

What we are almost out of is 2020. And not a day too soon.

The new beginning that 2021 represents is well worth cheering.

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