For Christians, Easter is a holiday filled with hope, optimism and rebirth. For people of other faiths, the spring also marks a time to rejoice at the awaking of nature and the yearning to be outdoors.

After this long pandemic year, the yearning to stir from an isolation imposed to control the spread of a deadly coronavirus is great. There is an optimism surrounding the miraculous development of vaccines to protect us from COVID-19 and an increasing number of people who are being vaccinated.

We are seeing families and friends gathering together this weekend for Easter, as they have for other spring festivities. There is the belief – or rather the wishful thinking – that the pandemic is over and we can return to our normal lives.

We are close to that optimism being a reality. We have come a long way from the time when we hid in our homes, and we saw our family and friends only through online systems, such as Zoom.

We have every right now to be optimistic and yearn for normalcy. And there is no better time than Easter to express that hope and rebirth.

But we must not throw away the gains we already have made by being too anxious. We must not pretend the coast is clear. Celebrate this holiday and the weeks ahead by continuing to heed cautious public health advice — wear a mask in public; keep a safe distance from others; limit gatherings to small outdoor groups; don’t travel; and get vaccinated as soon as we can.

While Kern County’s vaccination rate continues to lag other California counties, the number of local people being vaccinated is increasing. The quantity of vaccines now allocated to Kern is increasing. By mid-April, Kern residents 16 years and older are expected to have access to vaccines, which have been proven effective and safe. Supplies are expected to increase to meet the demand.

Kern County has launched a massive effort to get people vaccinated. It opened a large vaccine clinic at the Kern County Fairgrounds and diverted county employees to staff it. It has partnered with Bakersfield College, Cal State Bakersfield and local hospitals and health systems to open clinics, and deployed a mobile vaccination fleet to reach hard-to-get areas in eastern Kern and rural communities outside of Bakersfield.

“It’s an exciting feeling,” said Jay Tamsi, co-founder of the Kern County Latino COVID-19 Task Force. “This is a sign of hope.”

But nationwide, we are seeing infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths plateau and in some areas significantly increase.

During a White House briefing last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, admitted that the pandemic’s trends are scaring her. The vaccine rollout is giving restless people hope and potentially false expectations.

Echoing Walensky’s concerns at a press conference last week, President Biden cautioned, “The war against COVID-19 is far from won. This is deadly serious. We could still see a setback in the vaccine program. And most importantly, if we let our guard down now, we could see a virus getting worse, not better.”

We are in a race between efforts to vaccinate Americans and the emergence of more contagious and deadly variants of the disease. Only about 30 percent of American adults now are vaccinated and only about 16 percent are fully protected. The majority of Americans remain vulnerable.

Calling the COVID-19 pandemic now a “life-and-death race” between a quickly spreading virus and people getting vaccinated, Biden warned that “some of the reckless behavior we’ve seen on television over the past few weeks means that more new cases are to come in the weeks ahead.”

There is hope. But there must not be foolishness.

Get vaccinated. For information about getting vaccinated, go to kernpublichealth.com/COVID-19-vaccine-schedule/ or call the Kern County Health Department at 661-321-3000.

“Bottom line, the faster we get people vaccinated, the more lives we save and the more hospital capacity we preserve,” Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard said in a statement to The Californian.