The coronavirus vaccine is making its way through North Carolina. Already 8 percent of us have been fully vaccinated — 8.7 percent in Forsyth, 6.7 percent in Guilford — and another 1.4 million have taken the first dose.

A new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson has been approved, one that only requires a single dose and doesn’t need extreme refrigeration.

And our governor has eased somewhat the coronavirus restrictions that have been cramping our collective style for these last 12 months. We can host slightly larger groups. We can gather inside public spaces. Bars are open past sundown.

Time to unclench, right? Let loose with that long exhale that’s been pent up for so long?

Not so fast!

It’s true that our numbers are declining in all the right ways. There are plenty of hospital beds right now, and lots of available ventilators. But the air remains rich with virus-contaminated droplets, and the insidious nature of COVID-19 has only become more virulent. And there are real long-term health effects from the virus that we are just starting to understand.

Thousands of active cases still plague Guilford and Forsyth counties, and the South African variant of the virus — B.1.1.7, which is the most contagious yet — has started spreading through the state. Unless you’ve already been fully vaccinated, it’s just as easy to catch coronavirus today as it has been throughout the pandemic.

It is entirely possible to catch coronavirus twice. It is still possible to be infected with coronavirus and not know it. Close proximity with other humans remains the most likely way to contract the disease.

And remember that these nastier variants arise only through mass replication, their likelihood increasing with each new case.

Now is a terrible time to catch the coronavirus. We’ve finally begun to grasp the thing after a very long year, finally made some tools — treatments, vaccines and safety protocols — to address it. Most of us will be vaccinated in a matter of months. If we act in concert, we can be out of this thing by the onset of summer. But if we don’t get a handle on it this spring, we could be looking at another long coronavirus winter when we head back indoors.

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