California is entering a critical phase in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. After a yearlong struggle that has claimed more than 62,000 lives, we are beginning to see signs of a return to normal.
Last month I was finally able to hug my mom for the first time in over a year! Earlier this month, I went for a walk with a friend and was able to hug her goodbye without the nagging fear of passing on a potentially deadly virus. But you don't have to be a hugger like me to benefit from social connection.
Research shows that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem and greater empathy for others. It is literally good for our mental and physical well-being, and it's something that's been absent from us all for so long.
That fulfilling feeling of connecting with others — in person and safely — is something I want every Californian to be able to have.
But the only way it's possible, the only reason we can reopen our businesses and restaurants and make post-pandemic memories with friends and family in person again, is by reaching community immunity with the help of the three highly effective vaccines we have available to protect us.
Getting vaccinated is not just about protecting ourselves. It's about protecting our family, our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors. That's why we call it public health.
The only way we can get through this pandemic is together. That's why we need the participation of every Californian, along with continued coordination and cooperation on a statewide scale.
In the last few months, the state has made great strides. California now has one of the lowest infection rates in the U.S. Just a few months ago, our state had close to 60,000 new COVID-19 cases daily and well above 500 deaths per day. Those numbers have plummeted to fewer than 1,400 new cases and fewer than 100 deaths daily. We've administered more than 33 million vaccines across the state — and more than 6 million of those doses have been administered in our most vulnerable communities.
One of the most important responsibilities of government is to make sure that our most vulnerable residents receive equal protection, especially during a crisis. So, as we charge ahead with delivering vaccinations as safely and quickly as possible, equity continues to be a central focus of our strategy.
Today, everyone age 12 and over is eligible for vaccination — an estimated 2.1 million newly eligible individuals. Clearly, as millions more become eligible, there are steps we must take to ensure we continue to reach the hardest-hit communities as effectively and efficiently as possible.
First, we must provide access and support to make it easy to reach Californians who are disproportionately affected by this disease. That could include transportation assistance, extended hours, language support and resources to reach homebound and unhoused Californians. Second, we must come together as a community to build trust in these life-saving vaccines so that as many Californians as possible will choose to become vaccinated.
Across California, those in positions of trust — clergy and teachers, neighbors and friends, business leaders and co-workers — should urge all those around them to learn the facts about the coronavirus vaccines. They have been proven, first in large clinical trials, and now in the broader population. They are safe. They are effective. It's clear that the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risk of side effects.
Most importantly, they are our path out of this darkness. They are the means through which we can fully reopen our state, reconnect with friends and loved ones and put an end to this pandemic.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is the surgeon general of California. This piece was first published by CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture that works with media partners throughout the state, including The Almanac.