Nothing has really changed in the coronavirus pandemic since it first hit here last spring.

Until now.

Now there’s a vaccine. It’s arriving here this week, to be used first to inoculate health-care workers. Next up will be the elderly in nursing homes, according to the state government’s plan.

This does not mean that the pandemic is over. Far from it. It will be several months, at best, before the bulk of the population has been vaccinated. If we’re lucky, life will be closer to normal before the start of the next school year. Between now and then, we’ll be in a different phase, where there will be lots of questions about priorities, and equity, and distribution, and side effects, and the differences between vaccines, and how (and whether) to track who’s had a shot and who hasn’t.

But for the moment, let’s celebrate the beginning of that phase. Because, for the first time, there’s really light at the end of the tunnel.

Up to now, as I said at the outset, nothing had changed. Sure, the lockdowns ended. The weather got warmer in the summer, and research helped us figure out how we could minimize transmission. That came down to this: Wear a mask in public and stay away from people, particularly indoors. Some people were lulled into thinking the whole thing was just going to fade away. That was never true, as the scientists told us all along.

Here locally, when the college students came back to town, that immediately became evident. Cases spiked, and deaths eventually followed. It was a virus spread through the air that could kill people, and there was no medical way to prevent it. That never changed.

But again, that is now changing. There’s a vaccine. Eventually, that means people will gather together in the way that human beings like to do. Eventually, we won’t really need to wear masks — although it might not be a bad idea in flu season, come to think of it.

There will no doubt be lots of well-intended messages coming from the authorities about maintaining vigilance, and I encourage you to listen carefully. You — and your loved ones — don’t want to be the last to die. For today, or for this week anyway, let’s just be happy, and grateful. There’s real progress.

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