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Andrew and Sarah Zahn of Elizabethtown enjoy their lunch in Lancaster city's Penn Square on Friday, May 14, 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased the rules on mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people on May 13, 2021. Pennsylvania's mask requirement remains in place for partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people. 

THE ISSUE

Pennsylvania ended most of its COVID-19 mitigation measures Monday, allowing restaurants, gyms, theaters and other businesses and venues to return to operating at 100% capacity. Fully vaccinated people no longer are required to wear masks or stay 6 feet apart, though a mask requirement remains in place for people who have not been fully vaccinated. Additionally, masks still are required on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation and in transportation hubs such as airports and stations. (Workplaces, businesses, long-term care facilities, hospitals and other public spaces may have their own mask requirements.) The state’s masking requirement for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals will remain in place until June 28, or until 70% of Pennsylvania adults are fully vaccinated, whichever comes first.

Maryland resident Ben Wong, who was interviewed by LNP | LancasterOnline’s Erik Yabor while shopping Monday at the Shoppes at Kissel Hill in Warwick Township, articulated some of the concerns we have about our return to mostly mask-free living.

Wong received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and said he feels safe being out and about.

But he also said he “can’t tell if most people aren’t wearing masks because they’re vaccinated, or because now they can say just say they are.”

We can’t either.

And given the inexplicable culture war over mask-wearing, we’re finding it hard to trust the honor system.

Wong also said the pandemic has changed how he interacts with the world. He told Yabor that he always carries a mask with him, frequently sanitizes his hands and is more mindful of others’ views on science.

Same goes for us. The same goes, we’re guessing, for many people.

We’re elated by the return of some semblance of normalcy. The prospect of attending free concerts this summer in Long’s Park fills us with joy. We’re moved by this newspaper’s photos of local high school graduates getting to enjoy actual commencement ceremonies. Seeing people shopping and gathering in Lancaster County businesses is a relief after more than a year of worrying about the local economy.

But we’re also mindful that for thousands of American families — hundreds here in Lancaster County — there will no return to normal life. More than 595,000 Americans, including 1,040 county residents, have died from COVID-19. Their deaths have reshaped the lives of their families forever.

We’re concerned, too, about the hospital employees and other health care workers who have been physically and emotionally exhausted by the grueling work of caring for COVID-19 patients.

As Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health CEO John Herman told LNP | LancasterOnline’s Nicole C. Brambila, “We’ve had over 350 patients that have succumbed to this illness and we’re not used to that. We’re not used to that as health care workers. So, everyone is just drained by this.”

Expanding access

If you haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, please consider the hospital employees who will need to take care of you should you get seriously ill.

Some people are choosing not to get vaccinated because of politics, which is tragic in its own way. We’d strongly urge these individuals to rethink their resistance.

But as the nonpartisan newsroom Spotlight PA reported last week, some Pennsylvanians haven’t gotten vaccinated because of barriers such as language and lack of transportation, health care access and vaccine safety information.

The “same communities in Pennsylvania disproportionately harmed by the coronavirus are still more at risk,” Spotlight PA reported. “About 73% of people who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the state outside of Philadelphia are white, while 4% are Black and 4% are Hispanic.”

An analysis by that news organization found that “a significant equity gap in vaccinations persists six months into the rollout.”

Spotlight PA, whose partners include LNP Media Group, noted that the Wolf administration “has faced criticism for not prioritizing specialized approaches to reach communities of color and non-English speakers, and instead being reactionary after programs and efforts were already launched.”

Finally, in April, the administration “acknowledged the disparity in vaccinations and hired Latino Connection, a Harrisburg-based marketing agency, with a $1.8 million grant to work on closing the gap,” Spotlight PA noted.

State lawmakers are working to allocate more federal coronavirus relief funding to community groups working on vaccine access, Spotlight PA reported. We’d like to see those efforts advance — perhaps there’s an opportunity for the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force to get involved — because the work of such community groups in Lancaster County has been invaluable.

Groups such as Patients R Waiting, the Lancaster NAACP and the South Asian Association of Lancaster, and organizations such as Union Community Care, Bright Side Baptist Church and Bright Side Opportunities Center have worked to expand access to COVID-19 vaccination here. 

As Dr. Cherise Hamblin, founder of Patients R Waiting, which seeks to address health disparities by increasing diversity in health care, said last month, if “a large subset of our community is left behind, no one wins because the pandemic rages on.”

That organization, with Union Community Care, is hosting summer vaccination clinics for communities of color.

We are grateful for such efforts. We’re certain they could use more funding.

Get factual information

It’s essential that Lancaster County residents ages 12 and older get vaccinated. Remember: Vaccination is safe, effective and — unlike those fake vaccination cards sold online — free.

And please don’t be fooled by the disinformation about COVID-19 vaccination that proliferates on social media.

For instance, as Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer at LG Health, wrote in the May 23 Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline, “There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines negatively impact fertility or pregnancy. ... If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, the benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 far outweigh the risks. Pregnant women are at greater risk for developing severe COVID-19 illness, which could endanger the lives of both the mother and the baby. We have seen miscarriages at Women & Babies Hospital that we believe were a result of the mothers’ infection with COVID-19.”

Ask your medical provider for vaccine information; do not rely on social media. If you lack access to medical care, contact Union Community Care, a federally qualified health center that offers a sliding-scale fee discount program.

Nearly 220,000 Lancaster County residents are fully vaccinated, which is great. But that’s only about 40% of the county’s total population.

Until more of us are vaccinated, there will be county residents who need to be careful as they reenter public spaces.

The unvaccinated cannot rely on herd immunity to protect them; it’s a long way from being achieved.

And people with compromised immune systems — whose level of protection from vaccination may not be as high — may need to continue to mask up in public. Unlike those who refused to wear masks when they should have, these individuals aren’t going to cause anyone harm by continuing to wear masks. They’re doing their best to stay healthy and deserve our respect and understanding.

The pandemic isn’t over yet, though we look forward to the day when we can say with confidence that it’s behind us. That day will come sooner if more Americans get protected against COVID-19, so please get vaccinated — if not for yourself, then for your parents, children, other family members and friends so that schools, homes and workplaces can return to normal or, at least, to the new normal.

vaccinatelancaster.org

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