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Let’s welcome the season of light to Maui County

OUR COUNTY

The holidays are here. And while we each have our own family traditions, most year-end celebrations — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, winter solstice — share one thing in common. I’m talking about light. Whether it’s stringing Christ-

mas lights on a tree, lighting candles in a menorah or kinara, or burning a Yule log, the shortest, darkest days of the year remind us of our love for light.

After months of dismal, grim news about COVID-19, we now know that a vaccine has arrived and our frontline heroes, health care workers, first responders and our most vulnerable people are ready to roll up their sleeves. The vaccine is the light that gives us hope for an eventual end to one of the darkest times in our lifetime.

Recently, Mainland positivity rates for coronavirus have been hovering near 20 percent. Although Maui County’s positivity rate has long held steady below 2 percent, this awful virus also prematurely ended the lives of 17 members of our community. We honor and remember them, and feel for their loved ones who are missing them even more during this time of year.

The many other impacts of COVID-19 are much more difficult to measure, but we certainly feel them. The mental, emotional, social and economic wounds will take years to heal. We’re more than ready to “get back to normal,” whatever that means, after 2020.

In recent days, Hawaii health officials shared plans for vaccinating the state’s 1.4 million residents. But this good news comes with a timeline and a reality check. It could be the summer of 2021 before most people will be vaccinated. That’s a sunny estimate that assumes no major unexpected disruptions to vaccine supply or distribution logistics.

The feds are allocating each state’s vaccine doses based on population. Approximately 44,000 Hawaii residents meet the high-priority criteria for early vaccines, including first responders, health care workers and kupuna.

Our state DOH estimates it will take at least six months until Hawaii has a sufficient supply to vaccinate 70 percent of our population to reach a minimum threshold for so-called “herd immunity.” However, Dr. Anthony Fauci estimates 85 percent must be vaccinated to achieve what he considers “true herd immunity.” Either number requires our patience.

There’s good reason to have faith that this global pandemic will finally come to an end, but it won’t happen right away. As we wait through the weeks and months needed for the vaccination effort, we must keep doing the right things.

I know, I get it — we all have COVID fatigue — but please continue to be patient. We all know the drill: wear masks, wash hands often, watch our distance from others and wait until there’s herd immunity to gather in groups. And yes, that includes this holiday season.

To safely close out 2020, please plan low-key celebrations for Christmas and the New Year with members of your immediate household. This is not the time for social butterflies to flutter between parties or to go bar-hopping. Social gatherings and “bar-like” behavior (prolonged periods of eating, drinking and talking) are the best ways to share COVID-19 with your friends and family, instead of good cheer.

For those who own a smartphone, now is a good time to download the free AlohaSafe app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Using Bluetooth technology, the app connects to the Google Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) system in 17 states and Washington, D.C. Participants receive an anonymous alert after being in proximity to someone with COVID-19. Maui County piloted this app on Lanai and Hana and since its recent wider release, more than 7,000 more people have downloaded AlohaSafe as an added layer of protection.

We can finally see the light. It’s a little dim and off in the distance, but we can see it’s a ray of hope that grows brighter by the day.

On behalf of my wife Joycelyn and our entire ohana, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to each and every one of you.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.

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