Welcome back to normal - or “normalish.” This summer, we’ve gotten back to enjoying all the things we missed last summer: the festivals, the community events, the small and larger gatherings. It feels good to get back to going to festivals, but we should remember that the reason we missed these events last year - the novel coronavirus - is still out there and we should take precautions against it.

Local organizers have done a great job bringing back events such as Dinner on First, the Bloomin’ Festival, Strawberry Festival and 2nd Fridays. Over the next couple of weeks, there were be even more community events where we will be face-to-face with each other and celebrating the things that make Cullman County special.

Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren't vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.

We encourage everyone to attend these community events - from Garden City’s Freedom Celebration to the July 4th activity tournament in Colony, to fireworks events - but also to be aware that the fast-spreading delta variant of the virus is out there.

The bad news on the delta variant is that it spreads easier - like gossip in a small town - has more severe symptoms and is infecting younger people. The good news is that the vaccinations provide effective protection against the variant.

The best way to protect against the virus is through vaccinations, which are free.

This week, we ran a story about the spread of the delta variant in Southwest Missouri, where there is a spike in hospitalizations due to the coronavirus. Hospital officials there said they are beginning to see infection rates inch closer to what the rates were at their peak in November-January. They also said the vast majority of patients they’re seeing were not vaccinated.

The CEO of one hospital group, Steve Edwards, encouraged people to get vaccinated. “We can acquire immunity through infection or better immunity through vaccine,” Edwards tweeted Monday. “With low vax rates, looks like many are going to do this the hard way. The Ozarks is my home, I realize we can be stubborn people. Please vaccinate.”

Alabama, apparently, can out-stubborn Missouri, the “Show-Me” state. Missouri’s vaccination rate is at 38.3%, while Alabama ranks second to last in state vaccination rates at 32.1% of the population being fully vaccinated. Only Mississippi has a lower vaccination rate, at 29.2%.

We can and should be doing better than this.

It’s great to be back together again and doing things as a community, but let’s also be sure that we’re taking care of our community by getting vaccinated.

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