By Nate Blackford, Mosaic Medical Center – Maryville president

Vacation season is here. And as states and communities ease restrictions, many people will take the opportunity to travel. I’m reminded of the old Southwest Airlines commercial that said, “You are now free to move about the country.” That freedom means responsibility and a healthy amount of caution.

Let’s start with the facts. COVID-19 is still around us. As I write this, we’ve had four new cases in Nodaway County in the past 24 hours. Thankfully, all of those impacted are able to care for themselves at home at this time. Missouri has had a seven percent increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the past seven days. A number of new hot spots have emerged around the country.

And globally, according to Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) executive director, “By no means is this over. If we look at the numbers over the last number of weeks, this pandemic is still evolving. It is still growing in many parts of the world.”

So, cases are increasing, COVID-19 is still an active threat, but I’m being told I can now move around freely without restrictions. So what am I missing, you may ask.

Let me do my best to explain from my perspective. One of the original goals of the restrictions put in place was to flatten the curve so health-care providers could prepare and not be overrun with cases. We wanted and needed to make sure we were prepared to meet the needs of our communities. We were dealing with a large number of unknowns. In many respects, we were flying blind early on in the pandemic.

Fast forward a few weeks. The economic realities of being quarantined started to set in. Businesses and livelihoods were negatively impacted. Leaders making the decisions were charged with finding the delicate balance between population health and economic impact. They had to do so with limited and ever-changing information. They had, and still have, a nearly impossible job to find the perfect balance.

The solutions haven’t been, and won’t be, appreciated by everyone. However, I am very thankful we have avoided a major population health outbreak in our area so far. I sincerely appreciate all the leaders who have stepped up, engaged and led in these unprecedented times. It hasn’t been easy and there is no playbook.

Now back to travel. I know we are all itching to return to normal, including summer vacation. As you make plans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has very helpful information, including the latest COVID-19 hot spots. It also includes FAQs and helpful resources to start planning a trip, such as:

• Traveling increases your risk of getting and/or spreading COVID-19. Take the appropriate recommended precautions such as face masks, hand hygiene, social distancing, etc.

• Air travel puts you at more risk than car travel because social distancing is more difficult in airports and on planes.

• If you get sick while traveling, contact your doctor, monitor your symptoms and avoid contact with others when possible.

I hope you take time to review before heading out. Please continue to take care of yourself and others. We are still in a global pandemic.