By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
In the first public event in Wright Park for well over a year, on the last day of June, Governor Jay Inslee, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and a few friends – and in fact everyone – was invited to welcome a new era in Tacoma – a post-pandemic economy and life.
To sum it up, no longer are people required to social distance in grocery stores or wear masks (unless businesses require them).
Bars, movie theaters and restaurants can open at full capacity without restrictions.
COVID is far from over, but as of Monday, June 28, the state Department of Health website showed 68.8 percent of people over 16 in Washington state had received COVID-19 vaccinations. In Pierce County, that drops to 50 percent. 70 percent is the bench mark for herd immunity to make a difference.
The announcement was not just for Tacoma, of course, the new guidelines are statewide. But that does not mean that we are done with COVID. The pandemic’s not over when businesses re-open.
COVID variants still abound and there are still many, children under 12 and those with health issues for example, who cannot be vaccinated.
The event, complete with food trucks and entertainment, offered COVID-19 vaccinations. The gathering at Wright Park was the first of three reopening events in the state. Inslee also attended celebrations in Seattle and Spokane.
Don’t get rid of those masks yet. Those not fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks in public indoor settings, and all people, even those who are fully vaccinated, must still wear masks in certain places, including schools, health care settings and public transportation.
For the most part, the mood at the event was optimistically festive. Most of us wanted to believe that we had made it through, even partially through, the challenges of the past year or so. And we’ve made it through primarily thanks to vaccinations.
But as always, it seems, some groups are more responsive than others.
Among those younger than 18, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department data show 10.2 percent of that age group is vaccinated in the county, compared with 40.9 percent of those 18-29; 52.2 percent of those 30-49, 60.4 percent of those 50-64; and 72.2 percent for those 65 and older.
By race/ethnicity, Native American/Alaska native shows 56.9 percent vaccinated, 48.9 percent of Asians, 33 percent among Blacks, 28.3 percent among Hispanics, 41.9 percent among Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 43.3 percent among whites.
The gap between men and women vaccinated stands out; with 47.9 percent of women and 41.5 percent of men receiving a dose.
The gathering was many things – a sign of hope, a place to express questions or even protest.
It was a gathering of relief, a sense of work done and yet to be done.
It was a gathering of health care workers, government officials and regular people – in fact many homeless people were there to observe, question or celebrate.
For many of us it was what we wanted it to be – the first of series of events highlighting our re-entry into something like normal work, business and gathering.
With music, crowds and food trucks, there was the sense that “normal” was almost within reach.
As one recent magazine article put it, this will be a long good-bye. Like any long, drawn out relationship, it will take us time to untangle and recalibrate, but this gathering showed that most of us are ready.
And the rest of the country is ready too: the 4th of July weekend was the busiest travel weekend – on both highways and airports – in years.
Re-opening, as we have all noticed already, is an uncertain balancing act between costs, needs, supply shortages, worker shortages, lingering safety concerns and a whole range of emerging complications that few, if any of us, anticipated.
For the most part we are moving forward and, also, for the most part, we are moving together.
But as with every economic recovery, the way forward is unclear and inconsistent.
Some industries, like food service can reopen relatively quickly.
Other industries, like the hotel market, are not so flexible. On a nationwide level for example, 21 of the top 25 U.S. hotel markets remain in a depression or recession.
Urban hotels are still in a long term “depression” cycle while the overall U.S. hotel industry remains in a “recession.” New York City, for instance, had 200 hotels that have permanently closed.
As we as a state, as a nation, even as a local economy emerge into new, and ever-shifting possibilities and challenges, we do so tentatively but also with determination.
Here in Tacoma, I was struck by the fact that our first major public gathering was to announce that public gatherings and celebrations would, from that point on, become the norm instead of the exception.
Time will tell however,
Like us, COVID is persistent.
New variations emerge on a near weekly basis.
We cannot, and will not stay closed forever.
Whether COVID is something we “defeat” or learn to live with is the ultimate question.
As a community, as a nation and as individuals, we are reclaiming aspects of our lives, if we ever had a justification for celebrating our “independence” this “declaration” of re-opening would be it.