Christmas and New Year’s Eve typically rank among our most social holiday celebrations, and while the nation enters a promising phase in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic with two vaccines in early stages of distribution, we simply can’t let down our guard as much as we might want to.

And let’s face it, most of us really want to.

That’s why Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg gathered Wednesday with MUSC President Dr. David Cole and Roper St. Francis Healthcare Chief Physician Officer Dr. Chris McLain to urge caution — and to reinforce what they have been saying in various ways since the pandemic began in the spring: Wear a face mask and be mindful of social distancing, especially if you’re indoors.

It’s also smart to take other common sense measures to prevent contracting or spreading the virus, such as limiting in-person gatherings, washing hands thoroughly and getting tested regularly.

“There is hope, just like there is in the Christmas season, but we have to stay vigilant,” Dr. McLain said.

Mr. Tecklenburg added, “If you haven’t put your guard up yet, it’s not too late.”

We understand this requires still more sacrifice in a year already full of it: Those who have little or no family or who recently lost a family member are particularly at risk of depression this time of year. Unfortunately, the persistent pandemic is spreading that sense to more and more of us.

While South Carolina appears to be faring better than some other states in terms of its COVID-19 infections per capita and the accompanying strain on its hospitals, one only needs to look at the headlines above the fold on Wednesday’s newspaper to appreciate how hard the pandemic continues to hit us: Gov. Henry McMaster announced he had contracted the virus, and the University of South Carolina’s football team canceled its planned appearance in the Gasparilla Bowl.

USC athletic director Ray Tanner said, “Between members of the coaching staff and student athletes, COVID and contact tracing has taken a toll too high for us to overcome.”

And on Wednesday, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control announced some of South Carolina’s highest daily numbers to date, including 3,599 confirmed COVID cases and 49 confirmed deaths. About 22% of those tested were positive.

In the Charleston area, MUSC reports a significant increase in the number of daily COVID-19 cases diagnosed per day since Thanksgiving. On Nov. 30, the Charleston area had about 17 cases diagnosed per day for every 100,000 people. A week later, it jumped to 29 daily cases, up about 65%.

Help is on the way in the form of vaccines, but there are difficult days ahead before enough of us are vaccinated to turn the corner on the virus, possibly a few months, possibly much longer than that. The healthier we remain until that day comes, the quicker our economy, schools and other institutions will rebound.

Our goal this holiday season should be to strike the best balance we can between mirth and health so that we can celebrate holidays in a far more social way in the not-too-distant future.

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