1. Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN, FAAN


The end of this year's winter brings much-needed hope.


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In a virtual editorial meeting in February, our staff, hunkered down in their homes because of the pandemic, discussed how long this winter has been and how much we were looking forward to spring-the season of new beginnings. When AJN senior editor Corinne McSpedon shared a photo she took last April of an early sprouting blossom on a cherry plum tree, we all agreed it captured our feelings exactly. The photo, now on our cover, offers a glimpse of the fresh, new world that soon will be arriving-and inspires a feeling akin to our hope that the COVID-19 vaccines will help bring us closer to the end of this pandemic.

Figure. Maureen Shaw... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Maureen Shawn Kennedy

Although the United States hit an awful milestone in late February, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting more than 28 million cases and 500,000 deaths, the numbers of cases, deaths, and hospitalizations were finally heading in the right direction. Data from the CDC indicated that the number of new daily cases fell to 55,419 on February 22 from a peak of 315,106 on January 8. Except for a spike during the expected fall surge, daily deaths have steadily decreased from 6,488 on April 15, 2020, to 1,573 on February 22.


In spite of these glimmers of hope, we can by no means declare victory. We still need to be vigilant in preventive methods like masking, social distancing, and handwashing. Far too many people are still hospitalized or suffering from post-COVID-19 sequelae (the "long haulers"). And people are grieving the loss of family members, depressed from being isolated and out of their normal routine, or financially devastated from job losses. And while teachers valiantly struggle to continue to teach and support students through virtual learning, their efforts are often complicated by some students lacking the resources they need. How can a student complete a virtual assignment with a poor Internet connection or write essays on a mobile phone because there's no money to buy a computer?


Yet despite continuing challenges, we have science-based guidelines from the CDC that will help businesses and schools to reopen safely. There's also new hope that perhaps we can reverse Americans' lack of faith in those institutions we once relied on. The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was a watershed moment for legislators as well as citizens-a time to reexamine the dangerous effects of fiery and unfounded rhetoric; words do matter. The new Biden administration and Congress seem to be working in a more bipartisan way to address the pandemic, taking steps to ramp up testing and vaccine production and address emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.


The American Rescue Plan announced by President Biden in January to provide relief to struggling Americans is both expansive and expensive. The $1.9 trillion price tag has been a stumbling block for full bipartisan support; however, as I write this in late February, it is expected to move through the House and Senate and be signed into law by the president in March. The plan includes creating American production of key medical products and personal protective equipment to ensure an adequate supply line; rebuilding the public health infrastructure; ensuring that all Americans, especially vulnerable populations, have access to free vaccines; providing the financial resources schools need to reopen safely; expanding unemployment benefits; and-a sticking point that may not make it into the final legislation-a $15 minimum wage.


On another hopeful note, more than 70 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the time of this writing. A third vaccine, from Johnson and Johnson, which only requires one shot and has less stringent storage requirements, has received emergency use authorization. With this third vaccine and the injection of billions of dollars to increase vaccine production and injection sites, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, projects that these vaccines should be available to the general public in late May or June. The vaccines have been shown to almost eliminate severe cases of COVID-19 and prevent death. The challenge will be to get people to accept them. Nurses need to be out in the community-in schools, libraries, senior centers, wherever our neighbors gather-to help address vaccine hesitancy and ensure that people have accurate information. Spring heralds a new beginning-let's help do our part to ensure it blossoms into a full and life-affirming season.