An ounce of prevention, the old saying goes, is worth a pound of cure. But what about when there is no cure? What’s it worth then? And is an ounce enough?
As the novel coronavirus spreads nationally — and, as an official pandemic, internationally — time is a key factor. To limit its effect on the South Fork, timely, decisive action was necessary. And it has largely been taken: schools, businesses and institutions have been responsible, canceling most activities in the past week and for the foreseeable future, and elected officials locally have been taking precautionary steps, including limiting public meetings.
Those are all appropriate and necessary decisions. Every organization, and every individual, must follow suit. If we’re lucky, we can debate later whether it was all an overreaction, or just clear evidence that sweeping preventative steps really work. If we’re lucky.
Most people finally have gotten the message: COVID-19 is not like the seasonal flu — it’s a virus we know precious little about. We don’t have a vaccine or even an effective treatment yet, and it could be some time before either can be devised. It appears to be highly contagious and hardy, living as long as days on some surfaces. It is mild in most patients, particularly the young and healthy, which, ironically, makes it more dangerous, because so many people will unknowingly and unwittingly spread it to more vulnerable patients, particularly if they “soldier on” and make no real adjustments in their daily lives.
“Social distancing” is one of the few strategies that will effectively limit the spread of COVID-19, and this is an area lucky enough to lack the kind of dense development that demands close contact. We can effectively put distance between each other, and should for a time. It’s the neighborly thing to do.
The swift closure of schools, in particular, was a wise move that could pay off immensely, despite the inconvenience. An article in Science magazine online this week quotes Nicholas Christakis, a social scientist and physician at Yale University: “Proactive school closures — closing schools before there’s a case there — have been shown to be one of the most powerful nonpharmaceutical interventions that we can deploy. Proactive school closures work like reactive school closures not just because they get the children, the little vectors, removed from circulation. It’s not just about keeping the kids safe. It’s keeping the whole community safe. When you close the schools, you reduce the mixing of the adults — parents dropping off at the school, the teachers being present. When you close the schools, you effectively require the parents to stay home.”
These are uncharted waters for the local economy. For businesses, economic calamity is a major concern, and it now seems inevitable. There will be a devastating impact on the workforce, including hourly employees who, so far, have no safety net. Every single business is in jeopardy in the short term, but it’s important to remember that this crisis will, at some point, end. In the meantime, it’s important to do what you can to consume locally: If a restaurant offers takeout or delivery, order from them. Going to the store should be a limited activity, but try to buy your necessities locally whenever possible.
Only the oldest among us really remember life during wartime, when shortages and rationing were a fact of life, and a national spirit of togetherness helped pull the country through dark days. Others recall the days after the 9/11 attacks, when there was a similar dark cloud of uncertainty hovering over literally everything. This COVID-19 pandemic is something new for this generation, but the fact is that crises will come. They are tests of our mettle.
Let’s make sure we pass the test — every single day, in every single interaction. Don’t hoard goods; it’s important to have a supply of necessities for a week or two, but there is no reason for panic buying that leaves others without. If a neighbor needs help, help them. Be courteous and patient. Stay distant. Follow the official guidelines for staying safe and getting treatment when necessary. Remember that every action has a potential impact on the vulnerable among us.
And remember that everyone — every single person — is dealing with this trauma. We literally are all in this together. It’s life during wartime, and a tiny virus is the enemy. We can beat it. Together.
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One fine body…