But the danger of the overcautious, wait-for-Christmas public rhetoric from Biden and Fauci is that it provides cover and encouragement for fearful officials to extend the whole suite of emergency measures for many unnecessary months.

No doubt both men have strategic reasons for their approach. Biden presumably hopes to underpromise and overdeliver, while Fauci clearly has a theory of his own role that involves steering public expectations rather than just saying flatly what he thinks.

But after a year of misery, death and sacrifice, the public has a right to know in advance when the emergency should reasonably be over. People who are struggling or despairing right now need a sense of hope, of light at the end of winter’s tunnel. People who are unsure whether to be vaccinated deserve to be told that it can actually change all of our lives, and quickly. And officials struggling to balance risk aversion and the reopening imperative need to be given a permission structure that encourages them to choose normalcy, and soon.