A moment of truth is upon us. Georgia is taking its first, tentative steps toward reopening after a month of shuttering businesses and sheltering in place.

The question that came to my mind as Gov. Brian Kemp announced he was rolling back statewide restrictions ever so slightly was not “is it time?” but “have we learned anything?”

Georgians have had ample opportunities to learn over the past several weeks. To learn what “social distancing” means, and how and why we should do it during a pandemic. To learn more patience, prudence and self-restraint when it comes to venturing out for necessities.

If we have truly taken these lessons to heart – lessons not only to safeguard the health of ourselves and our loved ones, but to act considerately toward strangers to help safeguard their health, too – then Kemp may prove correct in his timing.

But if we have only been following directions, and can’t maintain our new practices and routines without being ordered to do so, it’s hard to see when the timing ever would have been right short of widespread vaccination.

“Flattening the curve” was not about eliminating risk. Nor was it about reducing new cases of COVID-19 and related deaths to zero. It was about buying time: time for healthcare providers and facilities to tamp down the initial spikes in infections, and to get the equipment and supplies they needed to handle future cases. It was about preventing the healthcare system, fighting to get its arms around a dangerous new virus, from being overwhelmed.

Our mandated isolation seems to have accomplished that. New cases have been trending downward, as have deaths related to the virus. Our hospitals’ capacity to deal with new cases, measured in both beds and ICU beds that are available, appears solid.

And, sadly, there will be new cases. But there would have been new cases whenever the reopening came, so that cannot be the standard by which we measure Kemp’s decision. The standard has to be – always had to be – whether the new cases are of a manageable scale.

Back to the lessons learned. If we continue to exercise the same caution and prudence in visiting newly reopened “non-essential businesses” as we did with the “essential” ones, we can keep the rate of new cases sufficiently low.

Not that it’s all up to us. Kemp did not return us to our own devices in a “business as usual” sense.

The headlines say businesses such as bowling alleys, tattoo parlors and nail salons are reopening. The fine print says they may reopen, if their owners wish, but only if they comply with a long list of stipulations.

The new executive order detailing the requirements for those businesses allowed to open their doors is 26 pages long. Dine-in restaurants alone face 39 requirements before they can begin admitting patrons. Fitness centers have 16 specific stipulations, besides the general ones that apply to all establishments. Bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, movie theaters, ambulatory surgery centers and more have their own mandates tailored to their industries.

In short, business owners still face an onerous path to reopening. They will have to dramatically alter their operations, in most cases. Your experience as a customer will be significantly different.

The reminders that we live in a changed world are not going away. Nor should they.

As swiftly as the world changed, our return to normalcy was bound to be slow, uneven, halting. It would have been so whenever we started it.

Kemp may have been right in his timing, or he may have been wrong. Despite what the newly minted experts on your Facebook feed say, we don’t know yet. The way to judge Kemp’s decision is not by whether every day from here on out is a good one, but by whether we keep pressing forward as Georgians know we can.

• Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation: www.georgiapolicy.org.