Journal Opinion: Opening Back Up

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Streetscape 2021 will have added meaning June 5 after more than a year living inside the shadow of the pandemic. The annual planting and cleanup is one of the surest signs of the coming of summer in the Mahoning Valley and draws hundreds of volunteers to downtown Youngstown. 

Last year prohibitions on mass gatherings prevented Streetscape and countless sports contests, concerts and celebrations from taking place in their traditional forms. This year, Streetscape’s theme is “The Real Stemulus,” a word play that suggests relief for businesses and the community. The enthusiasm it will generate, the burst of green and flowers taking root, serves as a hopeful metaphor, coming just days after most COVID-19 health orders will be lifted June 2.

Already retailers, grocery stores and businesses of all sizes are planning to amend pandemic protocols to permit fully vaccinated individuals to go maskless. Major League Baseball stadiums are opening to capacity. Entertainment and outdoor events are scheduled at venues such as the Warren Community and Youngstown Foundation amphitheaters and community parks. Local tourist attractions, festivals and fairs are preparing to resume or scale up operations. “Pomp and Circumstance” can be heard at stadiums and in gyms across the country. Graduation parties, weddings and family reunions are scheduled.

The summer of 2021 can’t come soon enough.

As we move forward to life as we knew it, we reiterate praise for the outstanding leadership our business community has shown in adapting to the circumstances imposed by the pandemic. Companies adjusted by implementing work-at-home and public health measures. While too many businesses were casualties of COVID-19, many found ways to capitalize on market opportunities and operating efficiencies presented by the pandemic. Ingenuity and can-do attitudes prevailed.

We all hope life gets better from here. Yet we must recognize the risk of the virus surging as variants spin off, mandates are relaxed and millions of Americans remain unvaccinated, either by choice or lack of access.

As of midday May 20, 43.19% of all Ohioans had received at least one dose of the vaccines. In Mahoning County, 42.18% had received one dose, and 40.26% had in Trumbull County. In Columbiana County, just 34.49% of residents had received a dose.  

Gov. Mike DeWine is offering Ohioans unusual incentives to get vaccinated –  entries in five drawings for $1 million for those 18 and older, and four-year scholarships, including room, board and books, at a state university for those between the ages of 12 and 17. The prizes are being funded using some of the state’s share of federal coronavirus relief funds. 

Certainly, the prospect of $1 million or a full-ride scholarship is appealing. But the greatest incentive for getting vaccinated is a full and lasting return to normal life. That’s the jackpot we all would share.