People wearing face masks in Del Mar
People wearing face masks in Del Mar. REUTERS/Mike Blake

As someone who’s worn a mask as part of their daily work life since before COVID, I certainly celebrate the times when we can relax these restrictions for everyday life. I also look forward to enjoying indoor activities where face protection stands as the exception instead of the norm.

That said, I see our world moving forward as one where everyone needs to prepare for their use again, regardless of vaccination status. While the Omicron variant moves into the rear-view mirror, other new strains of COVID-19 continue to develop that could cause severe illnesses to rise and stress our healthcare system, disrupt businesses, and strain school safety.

Though this latest surge infected most people with mild symptoms, epidemiologists state that other variants may make more people sicker. We just don’t know yet.

That means our most vulnerable community members — those with compromised immune systems — will need our support to ensure their safety. Hospitals and front-line healthcare workers also deserve and demand assistance to ensure they can also stay healthy while providing the essential non-COVID medical services that our region needs to thrive.

It will take all of us to do so, even if we don’t directly engage people with known conditions that put them at significant risk. In times of viral surges, we should not hesitate to implement additional precautions in the interest of public health.

Think of it this way. On a clear, warm, sunny Southern California day, we’re free to be outside to enjoy all sorts of activities in light clothing. Only sunscreen and water need to accompany us on our day.

But on the infrequent occasion it rains or, in the nearby hills and mountains, snows, we bundle up for protection, put extra space between cars while driving on the freeway, limit our travels to avoid being exposed to the elements, and take other additional precautions.

Think of our new COVID normal as nothing different. In times of low community infection rates, we can afford to relax restrictions and enjoy interacting with each other more. Should infections rise, however, we should do our part to protect essential workers, teachers, older residents, and those that help ensure our local economy stays open.

These changes can get frustrating, and the ever-evolving health directives can get confusing. But know this: your healthcare community is working to the point of exhaustion with one singular goal in mind — protecting you, your family, your neighbors, and our region.

We make recommendations that we feel do that for the most people with the least impact on how you live, work, and play. That won’t change, no matter what.

Dr. Jim Schultz is the Chief Medical Officer for Neighborhood Healthcare, a community healthcare nonprofit organization for San Diego and Riverside Counties that provides compassionate, whole-person care to everyone, regardless of their situation or circumstance.