It was easy to miss on Thursday, but Wapello County hit a major milestone in the pandemic. After weeks of watching the number of cases jump from one day to another, the number of active cases fell.

The figures kept by local officials still showed five new confirmed cases of COVID-19. But the number of people who have recovered from the virus leapt from 22 to 33. That means the county saw a net decrease of six active cases.

This was good news. It’s encouraging. But there is some risk with it as well. The virus hasn’t gone away, and no one should mistake this for a change in the county’s overall direction. It’s a gain, but a fragile one. We need to see this trend continue before anyone could responsibly say the tide is ebbing.

Even after a decrease becomes indisputable, there remains the possibility for additional flare-ups of the virus. Look at Wuhan, where it began and authorities are once again dealing with a new outbreak. Look at South Korea, Japan, or Singapore, which all face the same challenge. Without a vaccine, there will be no sudden end to this. It will more likely be marked with steady but reversible gains. It will demand continued vigilance.

But as the county moves toward the very real possibility of stabilizing totals and, eventually, decreasing numbers of active cases, there will be reason to celebrate. This is progress.

There are no perfect protections for people, no solutions that provide 100 percent proof against becoming ill. There are and always will be steps you can take that will help, and many of those remains the same as what health officials began hyping months ago.

Wash your hands. Use soap and water, and do a through job of it. Cover coughs and sneezes. Stay home if you are sick. The advice to use a mask is newer, but there is clear evidence it can help protect against the spread of this virus.

If you haven’t taken the assessment at testiowa.com yet, do so. And, if you qualify to be tested, keep that appointment. The best weapon we have is knowledge, and testing will tell us how widespread the virus actually is. That, in turn, allows better responses.

We’ve been accused in recent weeks of reveling in bad news in hopes that it would draw more pageviews and paper sales. Those accusations were false, and were in many cases made in bad faith by a tinfoil hat brigade that prefers conspiracy theories to reality. The truth is that, like everyone else, we’ve been waiting for good news. It just took time to arrive.

The progress suggested by the local numbers, small as it may be, is genuinely encouraging. It’s a reminder that we are not helpless. That we can, by acting responsibly as individuals and as a community, reduce opportunities for the virus to spread.

There will still be bad days ahead. There will be times when the progress being made now seems lost. That’s the nature of pandemics.

Remember this, though. Remember the beginning of the week, when the counts were soaring on a daily basis with no discernible end in sight, when Wapello County saw cases increase by 100 or more in the space of a few days. Who would have thought a shift like what local officials announced Thursday would be so close?

It’s not over. But this is progress.

Recommended for you