And just like that. Vermont is a red state when it comes to its rates of COVID-19 infections and Washington and Orange counties are the worst hit counties in the state.

Just like that, with a few maskless beers or a few trusted friends over for dinner and the state’s heretofore admirably low COVID case count has exploded. Positivity rates are up. There’s been another death, bringing the toll to 60 Vermonters. There are cases in our schools and our community.

It happened so fast. So exponentially. One week we had an outbreak associated with hockey in Central Vermont. Days later we had an outbreak linked to it at St. Michael’s College. The numbers never really stopped climbing. Earlier this week Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine reported that the state is tracking some 156-plus “situations” as well as several outbreaks.

State leaders have been absolutely clear that this latest surge in cases is not due to restaurants, gyms and hair salons being open. It is not due to tourists and second-home owners coming to Vermont. It is not due to children being in school – although this surge threatens the ability of schools to remain open. Seventy-one percent of this surge is directly linked to small social gatherings in people’s homes, in clubs, in bars, in backyards. It has been caused by people letting down their guard and by COVID fatigue.

Then just like that, we’re back to feeling that on-edge fear of March and April when we didn’t know how we could safely navigate a pandemic. That pit of the stomach fear is back, that sense of being helpless against a tsunami is back.

Our recourse is clear. Follow the guidelines. Mask up. Distance. Social gatherings are now prohibited. Don’t gather with people from outside your own household. Quarantine.

Take heed of the advice of state officials to prioritize need over want when making choices that will impact the ability of schools to stay open and long-term care facilities to be safe and hospitals to remain functioning.

It will take at least two 14-day incubation cycles to see if the new state guidelines are slowing the surge. Please follow the guidelines especially with the holidays upon us.