June 11 is going to be a big day around these parts. For the first time in 15 months, the COVID-19 restrictions we’ve all endured – for the benefit of not only ourselves but each other – will essentially end.

Phase 5 – the return to “normal” that seemed nearly incomprehensible at this time last year and seemed so distant six months ago – will be reality, finally.

So, what does that mean? One thing we hope everyone realizes is that COVID-19 is not magically disappearing just because the governor has announced he’s lifting most restrictions. The deadly disease remains a threat, particularly to those who remain unvaccinated or are resisting being vaccinated. 

The Washington Post recently reported that while COVID-19 positivity rates are down nationwide due to the availability of vaccines, that overall rate doesn’t tell the whole story.

In Washington state, for example, the Post reported that in late May, the positivity rate among the unvaccinated population remained as high as it was in late January, near the peak of the second wave of infections.

The Post also reported that in Maryland, the infection rate among unvaccinated young adults was the same as in January and that the hospitalization rate of that population had doubled, possibly because of new COVID-19 variants.

The advances in science that have made the COVID0-19 vaccines so widely available so quickly is as close to miraculous as we’re likely to see when it comes to containing a global pandemic. If you believe in miracles, believe your eyes when you see how vaccinations have driven infection rates down across the state, country and local area.

But, COVID-19 will linger and mutate and remain a threat if 50 percent or barely more than that of the population get vaccinated. People have been begging to get back to normal for months, demanding mask mandates and capacity limits be lifted.

The way you get to those things is through the vaccine. That’s the path forward.

It’s just a coincidence that Illinois moving to Phase 5 comes on the same week that we have published the remarkable story of Riverside resident and businessman Joe LaMantia. His harrowing experience at the hands of this awful disease should serve as a warning of just how it can impact not only your life, but the lives of those around you – family, friends, work colleagues.

That LaMantia survived the nearly five-month ordeal is incredible. Listening to Joe and those around him, no one expected him to pull through or to pull through with his mental faculties undiminished or without the need of oxygen assistance for the rest of his life.

We’ve probably heard plenty of stories from friends and family members who may have contracted a mild case of COVID-19. Joe thought that’s what he’d come down with in early January, two weeks before he ended up unconscious for more than a month.

Phase 5 is a godsend. It’s cause for celebration. And it’s due to the fact that vaccines are now widely available to anyone over the age of 12. Let’s all ensure the celebration continues.