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Life is back, but …

Illustration by ROOST

We didn’t feel a sudden wave of appreciation when New York state lifted COVID-19 restrictions on June 15. People had been gradually worrying less and less about masks over the last few weeks, and the benchmark of getting 70% of New Yorkers with at least one vaccination dose seemed a little arbitrary.

Also, it’s hard to buy into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s triumphant song and dance, knowing that he intentionally covered up the pandemic’s nursing home death toll to make himself look better, and also how he profited from the pandemic — making $5 million for a smarmy book saying what a great leader he was to get the state through the crisis, even though it wasn’t even half over. Just because he wants to run a victory lap doesn’t mean we have to cheer.

But in fact, life has turned a corner, even if we don’t like Cuomo taking credit for it. There is a general feeling that the pandemic is over — for us, at least. We no longer feel the weight of the burden we have endured for the last 15 months.

In downtown Saranac Lake Thursday night, June 17, a rock band was blasting triumphantly from the patio of the Waterhole, and a crowd was out dancing. This bar’s legendary free concerts have been missing from our lives for far too long. Meanwhile, other people were walking around like the old days, happily chatting over beers at taverns or enjoying dinner at restaurants. The Left Bank Cafe was open for the first time in a while, and was bustling. Graduations, graduation parties and backyard cookouts are happening, unfettered.

It’s such a relief.

It’s sad that this challenge divided people of our nation and world when it should have united us, but going forward, let’s put those divisions behind us and vow to do better and work with each other more in the future.

The Tri-Lakes area did better than most of the nation. People here were better at doing what they had to, such as wearing masks and social distancing, than almost everywhere else we heard about. Where the economy was devastated elsewhere, here the tourism and real estate markets boomed. We had a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases, but more importantly, we had particularly low numbers of hospitalizations and deaths from the disease that has killed more than 600,000 Americans and 3.84 million worldwide — and counting.

These are not just numbers; each was a person with a family and friends who love and miss them. Even if we did not personally lose a loved one to this disease, we know quite a few people who did. We think, for instance, of Bryce Laughlin, a young man who had just moved on his own from Virginia to Lake Placid and started work at a supermarket here when he contracted COVID-19 and died. He was only 22 years old.

We cannot put this pandemic in our rear-view mirrors cavalierly. To do that is a gross insult to all those who got sick and died, and those who love them. Around our planet, people are still dying of this disease all the time.

Even here, we cannot be confident the ever-mutating virus will not come back to haunt us. Anyone who is not vaccinated — and that is a whole lot of people — should wear a mask and social distance when out in public indoors, and should get vaccinated as soon as possible. We’ve heard the excuses, and they make little sense — and endanger all of us. Many venues still require masks to enter, and that is their prerogative. Many people are wearing masks, too, and they are not wrong. The U.S. is now, finally, making a big effort to share its wealth of vaccine doses with the rest of the world, which is necessary for us, as a species, to knock this virus into submission.

We’re not there yet, but locally, those who are vaccinated can live freely again. Summer is here, and life is back. We are enjoying it, believe us, but we remember those who cannot.