About two months ago, life seemed to burst back with a glorious exuberance coming out of a COVID hibernation for over a year's time.

People were getting vaccinated, hospitals were no longer filled to capacity, death counts were dropping significantly and good news seemed to be right over the horizon. Unfortunately, the nightmare of the COVID pandemic never really went away and is back raging all around us.

Although we call ourselves the Island City, we are not protected from the harsh realities of a world outside our waterways. Half the population of the state and nation have not been vaccinated, many are out and about wearing no mask or social distancing, people are crowding indoors once again, and the pandemic is spreading at an alarming pace.

Luckily residents of Wilton Manors and those living east of the beach areas have some of the highest vaccination rates in Broward County at 80% and higher. County-wide is doing much better than the rest of the state and the nation with an overall vaccination rate of around 68% compared to a state-wide and national rate of less than 50%.

At a time when Gov. Ron DeSantis is using sweeping authority to get rid of pandemic restrictions in the state, pretending that everything is fine and dandy, area hospitals are filling back up, people are still dying, and the vaccinated are becoming ill at higher numbers. Not looking to be labeled a Debbie Downer or a Henny Penny, but it appears that this nightmare is not quite over yet. Here in the Sunshine State, COVID infections continue to spread at an alarming rate as we lead the nation in Delta variant cases. Booster shots for those vaccinated might be right around the corner, particularly for vulnerable and immunocompromised individuals.

Hopefully we will see some local effort to halt our governor’s march to the edge of the cliff as he dismantles COVID restrictions, battles to open up cruise ships to fester more infections, brings children back to schools without masks or safety precautions and hides from the growing public health threat. Governor, if you want to open our state up so badly, then lead the nation in requiring mandatory vaccinations! Campaign across the state advocating COVID vaccinations mobilizing every corner of this great state. That would be true leadership governor. Please stop posing with those who burn masks and refuse to be vaccinated and stand with the thousands of health care workers who have been vaccinated, the thousands of teachers who have been vaccinated, the thousands of restaurant workers and hospitality workers who have been vaccinated. This is what is needed to open our state up fully, not peddling misinformation and encouraging behavior that threatens the health and safety of us all.

Thankfully we are beginning to see the attention shift away from anti-vaxxers claims of individual rights, turning now to the growing anger amongst the vaccinated in our society. Those of us who have been vaccinated do not want to spiral back down a COVID hole. Finally the topic of mandatory vaccination is front and center as California, New York City, large corporations and others begin to require mandatory vaccination of health care workers and school staff. Nationally, The Department of Veterans Affairs will require 115,000 of its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in the next two months, making it the first federal agency to mandate that employees be inoculated.

Here in our Island City, we need to be more aware when out and about. Wear a mask indoors, practice social distancing around groups of people, and don’t be so quick to let your guard down thinking there is no longer any serious threat from COVID. Look to encourage friends, co-workers and family members who have not been vaccinated to go ahead and get it done.

Together we will move beyond this current nightmare. Pretending it no longer threatens us is not going to make it go away. Putting our heads in the sand will not make it go away. Getting our state and nation fully vaccinated will do a hell of a lot to make this nightmare go away. Advocating for and achieving higher vaccination rates will only make life just better here…

Sal Torre has been a columnist for the Wilton Manors Gazette since its inception. Sal has served on the Wilton Drive Task Force, Budget Review Advisory Board, and Charter Review Board, among others. Sal is currently President of the Westside Association of Wilton Manors and Secretary for the Friend of the Wilton Manors Library. He is employed with Broward County in the Human Services Division.