You may have heard that here in the Northern Shenandoah Valley we’re doing well in the fight against COVID-19, and what you’ve heard is true. As long as you don’t go past Page and Shenandoah counties, the community spread of the coronavirus has been modest, with a limited number of new cases each day, for over a month. That is in spite of the reopening of three colleges, six public school districts, and numerous private schools. We’ve even managed to have a couple of scaled-back county fairs without significant increases in cases.

That does not mean that the virus is going away.

The novel coronavirus, causing the disease we call COVID-19, is still alive and well in Virginia, and while our adherence to masking, distancing, and sanitation has kept it at bay, if we let our guard down and start getting sloppy, it will return with a deadly vengeance. Places where the virus was thought to be under control, from Canada to Britain to Western Europe to Israel, are now suffering new spikes in cases. We don’t want to join them.

Last week, there were several new outbreaks of COVID-19 in the Lord Fairfax Health District. To date, all are small and appear likely to be contained with proper case investigation and contact tracing, but they serve as a warning. The virus is still out there and is ready to return at any time.

We must all keep our guard up against complacency that leads to unsafe actions. These include sitting unmasked close by another unmasked person in a car or break room; failing to mask and maintain distance while interacting indoors in public; traveling to and socializing at places where COVID is widespread; and coming to work with symptoms and not telling anyone. In each of these cases, there is the risk of disease spread where it needn’t exist. At best, these actions are careless, even selfish; at worst, they could be deadly.

We’re seven months into the COVID pandemic here in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, and we’re doing right well, but we’re not done with this fight yet. A vaccine is coming, perhaps more than one, but that event is still several months away, and until then we’re still vulnerable. We must all continue the good work that has led to all our success in the last two months. Please wear your mask; please watch your distance; please wash your hands. Clean and sanitize commonly touched surfaces. Where possible, set HVAC systems to circulate outside air into the building. Remember that closeness of contact and number of contacts drive the risk of catching this illness, so try to keep both to a minimum. Cooperate when the Health Department calls to discuss contact tracing. Remember to get your flu shot; you don’t want to catch COVID and flu at the same time. And for goodness sake, stay home if you’re sick.

The residents of this health district have succeeded in areas where others feared to tread, including in-person schooling and sensible, scaled-down outdoor community events. We can continue this record if…but only if…we continue the good practices that allowed us to achieve it. A vaccine is coming. Until then, don’t let your guard down!

Colin M. Greene, MD, MPH is a retired Army family physician who is the Director of the Virginia Department of Health’s Lord Fairfax Health District, which serves residents of the City of Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren dounties. For more information, or to find your local health department office, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lord-fairfax/.