This is not the news anyone wanted to hear. As the 2021 holidays approach, New Englanders are facing climbing cases of COVID-19.

Even as the rest of the country sees a slight dip in COVID-19 cases, the Northeast is experiencing an increase. New Hampshire and Vermont are tallying their highest case rates to date, according to experts, who warn that if coronavirus cases continue to rise, the Twin States will experience another surge.

“That’s what keeps a lot of us awake at night,” Dr. Aalok Khole, infectious-disease physician at Cheshire Medical Center, told The Sentinel Friday.

Farther north, in Sullivan County, cases are straining the health-care system. “We are drowning in COVID,” Dr. Jocelyn Caple, Valley Regional Hospital’s interim CEO and chief medical officer, said in a recent Valley News article. “We have had a surge of COVID-positive cases at the hospital peaking at almost double the patient cases we had during the largest peak last winter; this is the highest number we have had at any time throughout the pandemic.”

Valley Regional reports having to transfer patients to other hospitals, sometimes several states away. Cheshire Medical announced Friday it is postponing some elective procedures due to the rise in coronavirus cases.

In the week ending Thursday, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire reached an all-time high of 880, according to data from the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services. Hospitalizations statewide are also spiking, with 343 COVID-19 patients in New Hampshire hospitals as of Monday’s reporting.

Clearly, this mutating virus is a more formidable and insidious enemy than we imagined. Will this generation confront the scourge head on, or will it pretend, at its peril, that the threat doesn’t exist?

Throughout the ages, humankind has faced challenges, the most notable of which have been recorded in history books. The COVID-19 pandemic will be one of those challenges. Some have risen to the occasion, recognizing the pandemic for what it is and fighting it, by observing social distancing and masking up, getting vaccinated and ramping up hygiene. Others, at their own risk and that of fellow citizens, have chosen to dismiss it — even to the point of vilifying those who choose to recognize it.

Perhaps it remains difficult to accept a deadly virus when one has no firsthand experience with it. But real-life examples abound if one cares to find them. Ask a health-care worker — or funeral director.

We are aching to gather with family and friends during this holiday season. And we will do this because we’re tired of isolating. But medical professionals remind us to remain aware that an invisible, uninvited guest could be in our midst. Vaccinated or not, we would be wise to restrict the size of our gatherings, to mask up indoors when appropriate, to observe personal space and distancing, and to maintain good ventilation.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we should be grateful for the health-care community and others who have been battling this virus since its appearance here in early 2020 and who have given us the tools we need to vanquish it — or at least gain the upper hand.

And thanks are owed to everyone who has put politics aside and done what is needed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during this historic pandemic. It’s taxing to live life on guard, but we need to remain vigilant because the battle isn’t over.

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