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The end is in sight. Hold on a while longer

The sun is shining, trees are blooming and COVID-19 cases are dropping. It would be tempting to say the pandemic is over, toss out our face masks and gather with friends and family the way we used to. It would also be dangerous.

Yes, new cases are dropping. Statewide, Oregon recorded 1,914 new cases in the week that ended Sunday. That’s down 17.9% from the previous week’s total of 2,332.

That’s encouraging news. And Oregon is leading the way in keeping the numbers down.

Nationwide, new cases were up 1.1% for the week, and 30 states reported more cases than the week before. A USA Today analysis of COVID data ranked Oregon 48th among the states in the rate of per-person spread.

That’s impressive. And it shows that, despite the protests of Oregonians who chafe under the state-imposed restrictions, they’re working. If we had not shut down businesses and restricted indoor gatherings, if state residents had not complied with mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines, Oregon would be in much worse shape, with more people sick and hospitalized.

So why can’t we celebrate our success by lifting those restrictions? Because we’re not there yet.

While Oregon’s case numbers are excellent, the percentage of residents vaccinated lags a bit with 23.8% having received at least one shot, ranking 35th. The national rate is 24.5%.

The pace of vaccinations is accelerating too, with state officials now saying they expect to receive 3.3 million doses by the end of May — enough to give every adult Oregonian their first shot.

That is exactly why now is not the time to ease up on safety guidelines.

Restaurants are now open for limited indoor dining, and owners are gearing up for full reopening this summer. That means ordering supplies, hiring and training staff in preparation for a return to something approaching normal. The worst thing that could happen would be an unforeseen spike in new cases and hospitalizations, triggering a new round of shutdowns and putting those investments at risk.

Everyone can help prevent that from happening. We’re not talking about wearing masks, washing hands and distancing in public places like restaurants and stores. We’re all accustomed to those precautions, and yes, we should continue to observe them.

We’re talking about those places out of public view where the temptation will be greatest: family gatherings, backyard parties and close contact with those we love.

It’s more important than ever to resist the urge to come together in large groups as we did a year ago, before the coronavirus arrived. It’s not forever. It’s just for another couple of months.

We know how to do this. Let’s not mess it up.