This is a split-screen moment: Progress on vaccines means people can now plausibly talk about what they will do when the pandemic is over. But with new infections topping 212,000 Thursday — another daily record, topping one set Wednesday — it won’t be over in a snap. This remains a dismal slog.

“The vaccine has not come in time to do much about the winter wave,” said Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. “Vaccination is coming too late even if we do a really great job of scale-up. It’s coming too late to do much by March 1, or really by April 1.” Only at that point, he added, will the widespread distribution of vaccines begin to crush the virus.

In the meantime, the country faces what could turn out to be the most challenging few months in the public health history of the nation, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned in a speech Wednesday. That kind of dire language is increasingly coming from the top experts in the field and from the highest levels of the federal medical establishment. “We are in a very dangerous place,” declared a White House coronavirus task force document circulated to governors earlier this week.