The usually intense 10-week heart of the Jersey Shore summer season will begin this week. There won’t be the typical big crowds closely packing beaches, boardwalks and events, nor should there be.
While much about the future path of the COVID-19 pandemic remains unknown, the general approach needed now by officials, business people, residents and visitors is clear. All must adapt to living with the coronavirus.
Most of South Jersey’s tourism businesses — including casinos, indoor dining and amusement rides — have been cleared by the state to reopen Thursday, July 2, with conditions to discourage contagion. Fewer patrons allowed, masks required where close contact is likely, social distancing encouraged.
Businesses deemed essential worked out such practices and made them largely routine. Now those the state judged non-essential are joining them. The effort at all levels in South Jersey, in general, has been impressive.
There will be new cases, people testing positive for the coronavirus, many with no symptoms, many at little risk, but some who will become seriously ill and some who will succumb to the pathogen.
This is a good time to remember that the spread of the virus cannot be stopped, only slowed. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said, “In the coming months, most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus.”
The lockdowns of New Jersey and many other states slowed the spread of coronavirus to prevent large numbers of COVID-19 patients from overwhelming health systems. As the world reopens, that remains the primary objective.
Someday there may be an effective vaccine for this novel coronavirus. That’s not certain. There are plenty of pathogens, including other coronaviruses, for which no vaccine has been developed. There are plenty of vaccine efforts, including by some of New Jersey’s pharmaceutical companies, but a successful vaccine if found won’t arrive until the end of this year, or early next year, or maybe late next year — enough uncertainty that the response to the pandemic now can’t be based on an eventual vaccine. Humans will overcome this foe too, of course, but possibly by building immunity and treatment strategies over time.
Learning to live with the virus serves all of these possibilities. The adjustments people are making to their behavior to slow contagion keep caseloads at levels hospitals can handle, protect especially vulnerable populations at greatest risk, and delay COVID-19 illnesses and mortality — which if a vaccine is found could save some lives.
Many of these adjustments are discretionary, even large scale ones. Ocean City, for example, this week canceled its Fourth of July fireworks and Night in Venice boat parade. Both events are exceptionally popular and crowd the island — which is the whole point. They would ensure persisting close contact, which is how the virus primarily spreads. Credit Mayor Jay Gillian for bravely disappointing hundreds of thousands of people, but the fun of these events is outweighed by their potential damage to the health of some and the public’s view of the safety of visiting the Jersey Shore.
Most people already seem fine with the relatively small sacrifices required of them. Wearing a mask sometimes, staying aware and a bit apart from others, washing hands more often, doing without a number of conveniences — let’s hope that such adaptations are all that’s needed to live with COVID.
South Jersey residents, their guests and people the world over will be living with this new virus for months at least, more likely a couple of years and possibly indefinitely. As always, if people do what they can — focusing on changing their own behavior, which they control — they’ll make the best of the situation and it will be good enough.