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News from the Hamilton County Commission meeting Wednesday offered the rarest of sights in 2020.

There was reason for optimism. Seriously.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the first shipments of the coronavirus vaccine were expected this week, and the first round of vaccinations at hospitals happened Thursday.

The county government appears poised and ready when the vaccines do arrive, and that is worthy of praise.

It also got me thinking that, in these days of dread, we need more good news. That's true whether it's the story of the Minnesota Dairy Queen drive-thru that had 900 consecutive cars ''pay-it forward'' over a two-day period or MacKenzie Scott giving more than $4 billion to people and groups in all 50 states affected by the pandemic.

Because almost everywhere else the news is dire and as dreary as Wednesday's weather. Yes, there are still questions about the vaccine, and who and how many will take it. And yes, the decision about the ''reserve'' of the first 975 doses the state held as ''backup'' rather than pass them along to health care workers calls for an explanation.

While we all know the music on the radio and the Rudolph noses on the front of the SUVs around town mean Christmas is close, the seasonal jolly is hard to come by these days.

The coronavirus numbers are overwhelming. Consider the following:

— According to the New York Times, 10 of the top 20 cities with the fastest-growing case rates are in Tennessee, with Cleveland 16th and Athens 20th;

— Tuesday's positive test rate was more than 18 percent statewide, with almost a new record daily for hospitalizations;

— Hamilton County set a record Tuesday with 510 new cases;

— In the last two weeks, Hamilton County has had more than 4,000 positive COVID cases.

Simply put, a properly tested and safe vaccine can't get here fast enough, and the thoughtful words of Commissioner Tim Boyd at Wednesday's meeting should be repeated as often as possible.

"Read from the professionals who do this and the due diligence they go through before they ever inject a human with a new drug," Boyd said, as quoted by this paper's Sarah Grace Taylor. "I hope our public understands that there are professionals that are out there doing their best to protect us and improve our health and safety throughout the world."

But even with hope on the horizon as more and more of our community faces the pains of the pandemic, your personal precautions still matter as much as ever.

Because no matter your immediate or mid-range goals — be they a return to school or the chance to gather with friends safely — the light at the end of the tunnel still has the power of a locomotive. And with these skyrocketing numbers, ripping the final month from the 2020 calendar is not going to instantly reset the narrative.

So, as you are pondering your holiday plans and warming up your caroling voice, remember to be smart. And to be safe.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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Jay Greeson
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