The arrival of COVID-19 vaccine in Central Oregon marks a historic moment in a public health crisis that has roiled the world, killing more than 317,000 Americans and disrupting the lives and livelihoods of millions more.

The swift development of a vaccine that is considered to be extraordinarily effective against the notoriously elusive coronavirus is a triumph of science — but it doesn’t get us out of the woods just yet. It’s going to take a while for vaccines to get far enough out into communities to quell the pandemic.

To steal a phrase from Winston Churchill, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

We still have months to go to navigate this pandemic. Throughout, we have often been exhorted to “follow the science” in our response. It’s a snappy hashtag, but things aren’t quite so simple. Science doesn’t tell us how to balance tradeoffs between public health protection and economic damage, between safety and liberty.

That balance is up to policy-makers to achieve — and it’s a tough job.

As the science evolves — as we learn more about how COVID-19 spreads — policymakers must adapt if their policies are to be effective rather than merely symbolic or performative. Ideally, policies would be modified so that they attack the spread surgically, with a scalpel instead of a cleaver.

Solid studies and the reporting of public health agencies make it clear that gyms that observe strict protocols for physical distancing, masking, ventilation, and sanitation are not a significant vector for COVID-19 spread. Gym owners are right to urge Governor Kate Brown to reassess the restrictions that have shuttered clubs. They are right to note that there are very significant negative impacts to the health and well-being of the public when people are constrained from accessing beneficial exercise. They are right to argue that their model could point the way for maintaining activity while responsibly managing COVID-19 safety.

Following the science should mean taking a hard look at whether shuttering gyms, entirely prohibiting indoor dining and keeping schools closed is actually effective and necessary. Good policy-making should question whether the discernible safety benefits outweigh the substantial social and economic costs.

Following the science also puts the burden of slowing the spread of COVID-19 squarely upon our own shoulders. The data shows clearly that the main source of COVID-19 spread in this deadly fall-winter wave of the pandemic is from small, indoor gatherings — from family-and-friends get-togethers.

The government should not be regulating who we have in our homes — and trying to do so is likely to generate reflexive resistance, making such efforts counterproductive.

As always, though, demanding respect for our liberties also entails taking individual responsibility and self-governing without threat of law.

We know how this disease spreads and we each are responsible for acting accordingly.

Jim Cornelius

Editor in Chief