March 3rd, 2021

There were two big pieces of news on the COVID front yesterday. And one was far more important than the other.

The first was the news that the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi are repealing their state-wide mask mandates and all or nearly all restrictions on businesses.

The second was President Biden’s announcement that there will be enough vaccine supply for all American adults by the end of May. That’s two months ahead of schedule.

There was understandable outrage about the lifting of restrictions in Texas and Mississippi. After all, the head of the CDC just told us that now is not the time to let our guards down. And if you look at the numbers, Texas and Mississippi’s recent declines in COVID cases bring the states to where they were back in the summer and fall. Not great, although a lot better off than last month.

But here’s the thing. The state I’ve been in since November, Florida, has had no statewide restrictions since September. And the results in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been virtually indistinguishable from states with heavy restrictions.

Florida can definitely thank its winter weather, which allows restaurants to offer outdoor seating, or at the very least keep all the windows and doors open. Same with schools — the elementary and middle schools near me have been open for in-person learning for months. The state can also be grateful for its older population, which is less likely to go out and party with strangers.

But here are a few things I’ve noticed about the people I’ve seen in Florida — many of whom probably voted for President Trump in November. They are being (for the most part) careful. For one thing, they don’t want to eat inside at restaurants. Even when restaurant patios are packed, the inside is often empty.

Secondly, even if people aren’t wearing a mask, they don’t want to walk next to each other on the sidewalk. They will go out of their way to cross the street to avoid walking within a few feet of a stranger.

And third, in the most important businesses, like supermarkets, everyone wears a mask. There isn’t a statewide mandate, but Publix and Winn Dixie have mandates. There are signs at the front door. And people are obeying them. It’s a good bet that Texans will do the same. In fact, the Governor told them to do so when he announced he was lifting the restrictions.

So let’s get back to the other big piece of news this week. That there will be enough vaccine supply for all American adults by the end of May. This follows the announcement that big pharma rivals Johnson & Johnson and Merck will work *together* to produce the J&J vaccine so that more people can get it faster.

That’s the news that we are going to remember a few months from now. That’s the news that is going to get us back to normal.

People are not stupid. They’ve been living through this pandemic just like you and me for the last year. They may know people who’ve gotten very sick or even died. They almost certainly know people who’ve lost their jobs or seen their businesses destroyed. And they almost certainly know people who’ve been dealing with severe mental health issues because of the pandemic.

They are, just like us, taking all of that into account and making a personal risk calculation. Hopefully, they have learned enough about empathy over the last 12 months to act responsibly.

But let’s focus on the good news. Thanks to brilliant scientists, the end is in sight.

Jeremy Hobson is former host of NPR’s Here & Now and APM’s Marketplace Morning Report and has decades of experience covering politics, business and global news.