As COVID wanes, there’s only one goal: Back to normal, and soon

It won’t be long, March to be exact, and we’ll be a full year into the nightmare known as COVID-19.
Yet the looming 12-month anniversary comes with some of the most promising news yet that the nightmare is nearing its end.
Across the board, locally, within St. Louis County and the entire state, the numbers as they relate to COVID are rapidly improving - and we agree with a prominent legislator who this week predicted that the end is near.
The cause for optimism? Actually, there are many.
Let’s start with vaccinations, with more and more Minnesotans getting their COVID shots each day, particularly in the 65-plus demographic that is most susceptible to dire COVID circumstances.
And overall, about 700,000 Minnesotans have already received one dose of vaccine. Even a modest goal of 20,000 shots per day would bring that number to 2.2 million by May 1.
As vaccinations go up, the COVID numbers are ramping down, and not marginally.
Wednesday, there were less than 7,000 active cases in Minnesota. That’s a whopping 87 percent decline, yes 87 percent, since a Nov. 20 peak of more than 51,000.
Yet another positive development is the postivity rate of diagnostic testing, which in Minnesota now sits well below the caution threshold of five percent at 3.7.
Want even better news? Only 54 Minnesotans were in intensive care beds because of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. That’s down from a high of 399 on Dec. 1.
Ponder that: 54 Minnesotans, in a state with 5.5 million people.
Even Gov. Tim Walz voiced some optimism this week, stating “This news is positive . We’re beating this thing, getting the vaccines out.”
COVID cases have also slowed dramatically in St. Louis County, with only 15 cases reported Wednesday and a recent average of about 20 new cases per day in the vast and spacious county. In November, that number was almost 12 times as high with 236.7 new cases reported per day during one seven-day stretch.
In Ely, there were two weeks straight without a COVID case, which spurred the school district to return to full-time, in-person learning with 14-day case rates sinking to 0.0.
And over the last month, only three new cases have been reported within the 55731 zip code.
The news is really more than just promising: it’s a sign that things can and should soon return to normal.
And by normal we mean a pre-March, pre-COVID return.
Elyites, and Minnesotans, have been more than patient as government has consistently and continuously moved the goalposts, tightened many restrictions and delayed the rollback of others.
We’ve gone from “two weeks to flatten the curve” to nearly a year of life that has been altered like never before in recent history.
Schools have been closed, partially reopened and closed again, and are only open now with restrictions that would have seemed unfathomable only a year ago.
Businesses were shuttered and many remain hamstrung by government edicts, gatherings remain restricted and masks are mandatory indoors. Things that are banned in Minnesota but allowed once one crosses state lines only fuel suspicion that the mandates are now more about politics than public safety.
Events that mark major milestones or serve as economic cogs have been cancelled and even remain in question as winter eases and thoughts turn to spring and summer.
Simply put, it’s past time for leaders, from local to state levels, to chart a path forward to a future without mandates, masks and economy-crippling overreach.
Get specific. Stop saying “wait just two more weeks” and identify what it will take to return to normal. Let us all judge if their answers are reasonable or simply delay tactics.
If we are to take leaders at their word that none of these restrictions are permanent, then they must come up with reasonable metrics to pull them back, rather than indefinite, open-ended mumbo-jumbo.
Amid all of the promising developments, there remain troubling undercurrents including talk of mask mandates becoming state law, rumblings that events such as high school graduations and concerts and fairs will be forbidden, and opposition to common-sense developments such as a return to full-time, in-person learning.
The next few weeks and months will put all of our leaders to the test.
The numbers simply don’t warrant further restrictions and instead call for Minnesota to join many of our neighbors, where they see life returning to normal at a much faster rate.
We see another busy summer in Ely’s future, with visitors again coming to town to enjoy what our area has to offer, and to spur our local economy.
We see a summer without cancellations, but instead a Blueberry/Art Festival in Whiteside Park, a marathon and car show in the fall and a July 4 parade down Sheridan Street - one with full city support.
We see graduation ceremonies and weddings, family and class reunions, and school next fall with smiling, maskless faces.
What we see is normal. It’s been a long time coming. It’s long overdue.
But that time is clearly near, and only government stands in its way.