Last week, I met a Pacifica resident as she was leaving Senior Coastsiders in Half Moon Bay having gotten the second dose of her vaccine. After sleeping late on that Thursday morning, something she normally doesn’t do, she got a message from her daughter urging her to get in the car and drive as quickly as she could down to Half Moon Bay.

They were giving out shots to people like her, whose Sutter Health appointments had been canceled just days prior. So she did, and walked out that afternoon, head spinning.

“I’m overwhelmed,” she told me. Like everything else over the past year, it happened slowly, and then all of a sudden.

A year ago, the virus shut down life as we knew it, infecting tens of thousands of county residents. It has now killed 534 people in the county. These numbers are shocking, and were unimaginable last March. They remain unimaginable today for those lucky enough to have avoided the disease.

We put our heads down and stayed inside. By summer, it was clear we might not reemerge for at least a year, maybe two, if we were being honest with ourselves. Then we heard about the vaccines, a glimmer of hope.

That feeling was quickly dashed by surging cases all winter, a massive wave of deaths and a trickle of vaccines that felt like too little, too late for vulnerable Californians. It’s now March again, one year since the first COVID-19 case arrived in San Mateo County.

You have our permission to be hopeful.

A quarter of county residents have now been vaccinated. Daily cases are hovering closer to 50, down from the 500 or more in December and January. We now have three vaccines, each of which are just about 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations from COVID-19.

At a county office of education event last week, University of California, San Francisco, infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi gave us even more reason to be optimistic. Alongside their high efficacy, she is confident that each of the vaccines not only stops severe disease, but also prevents transmission. Plus, she’s not as worried about variants as other experts, saying real-world studies have shown that our immune responses to the vaccine are armed with defenses that can fight even new strains of the virus.

Perhaps the most hopeful I’ve felt was during a recent visit to Pie Ranch, where South Coast farmworkers, mingling at a safe six-foot distance while waiting for their shots, saw their neighbors all together for the first time in a year.

It’s not yet time to throw off our masks, to hop on a plane or head to a bar. But many of us have been waiting all year for a sign that it’s time again to wake up and look ahead, to dare to imagine a future where we can visit loved ones or even grab lunch with a friend without fear.

To you, we say, it’s time for that.

— Sarah Wright

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