We can do this. We who live in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties have already done a lot of great work in keeping the coronavirus from spreading to dangerous levels, and getting the go-ahead from the governor to begin the phases of reopening was welcome news.

But we must continue to do the great work to ensure we can move into subsequent phases in which all businesses and organizations can fully reopen, putting the pieces of our local and regional economy back in place.

Our efforts of social distancing, keeping gatherings to a minimum, wearing face masks when it’s appropriate and our patience with the overall restrictions caused by the pandemic have helped carry us through the first wave. Cattaraugus and Allegany counties combined have seen just three deaths and there have been no spikes in infection traced to a central location or event. To this point, teams in the long-term care facilities in our area have done an incredible job of keeping coronavirus at bay, protecting our most vulnerable.

As Dr. Kevin Watkins, Cattaraugus County’s public health director, said earlier this week, we seem to have “dodged a bullet.”

But now is not the time to celebrate and carelessly discard all the measures that have seen us through the first wave.

“This virus has not gone away,” Watkins said. “They are still showing elevated numbers in the state, although they are not as high as they were. It’s only because of what we have done as a community. We have helped flatten the curve.”

It’s important to remember that Cattaraugus County recorded its 51st positive COVID-19 case earlier this week, a man from the southwest part of the county who was on a ventilator in a Pittsburgh hospital. Three other county residents were in Olean General Hospital as of earlier this week, two of them on ventilators.

Nevertheless, Watkins stresses that we can and should continue with New York state’s phases of reopening — provided we follow the protocols meant to keep as many people as possible safe. The protocols are inconvenient; they don’t allow us to do whatever we want, when we want, but they will continue to help carry us through to a better time.

So we face more hard work in fighting the coronavirus. More weeks and likely months of social distancing, wearing face masks when we come into contact with each other and of constantly washing our hands and keeping surfaces disinfected.

As Watkins said, “It was easy to shut down. It seems like it’s harder to reopen.”

Let’s not shirk the tasks that will be required to keep our communities moving forward in the phases of fully reopening.

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