Tribune Editorial: Declaration of Independence from COVID-19? It could happen.

To realize a goal of ending mask mandates by July 4, we need those shots.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox talks about his plans to hopefully burn his mask by July 4th as he speaks at a news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

The Fourth of July. Independence Day.

That is the symbolic day that Utah Gov. Spencer Cox plans not only to stop wearing his mask, but also to blow it up as part of a fireworks display somewhere in the state.

Is that doable?

Probably. But not if we all get lazy and complacent. Not if we become, in the words of Thomas Paine, summer soldiers and sunshine patriots in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

We should not forget that July 4, 1776, was not the beginning of the War of American Independence. (It began at Lexington and Concord more than a year earlier.) Nor was it the end. (The last battle was Yorktown, more than five years later.)

Continued effort and vigilance must come from Cox, public health agencies, health care providers, local government and every single one of us if we are to reach this target. For it to be realistic, and not a mirage that will horribly disappoint us all and endanger the lives of many, those masks will have to stay on, and other precautions remain in place, until independence is won.

And those vaccines are going to have to keep rolling out just as fast as possible.

Underlying the optimism Cox displayed Thursday are some very encouraging numbers. It is good news, for example, that the regular reports of new coronavirus diagnoses are staying under 1,000 a day. It is much better news that the rollout of COVID vaccines in the state is going very well indeed.

As of Thursday, hospitals, clinics, long-term care homes, pharmacies and county health departments had administered 660,444 jabs. That includes 430,918 first doses and 229,526 Utahns who have received both recommended doses of the Pfizer or the Moderna version of the vaccine.

In the first week that the state offered the vaccine to Utahns between the ages of 65 and 69, 29% of that cohort received their first dose of vaccine.

The pace slowed a bit when a shipment of 36,000 doses was held up by bad weather back east, but it should more than pick up if, as expected, federal officials approve a third version, the single-dose vaccine made by Johnson and Johnson.

Thursday, Cox announced that eligibility had been opened to those as young as 16 (Pfizer version only, 18 and up for Moderna) for people who fit on a list of certain physical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the disease. And, in order to cut down on red tape, the governor said that the system would basically take people’s word for whether they have a qualifying condition.

“Please, please, please,” Cox said, “do not jump ahead in line.”

That’s the right thing for him to say, and for people to do. But it is still better to err on the side of getting more shots into more arms than stopping to get a doctor’s note for everyone who is ready and willing to get their doses.

As all of the medical stuff happens, we cannot pretend that it is all over. Everyone should still wear masks when out in public, including — especially — in the schools, which should all open right away. Not because the Legislature forces them to, but because it is the right thing to do.

Schools with masks, efforts at cleanliness and as much distancing as is practical will be much safer than, oh, say, a dance party reportedly attended by hundreds of high school students — with no masks or distancing — at a Salt Lake City nightclub last Tuesday.

We all want to get back to normal life as soon as we can. It will happen much more quickly if we realize that it hasn’t happened yet. Wear the masks. Get the shots. Look forward to the celebration.

Correction: Feb. 27, 9:20 a.m. >> An earlier version of this story named the wrong version of vaccine that is available for 16 and 17 year olds. It is the Pfizer vaccine that is available for that group.

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