Coronavirus Outbreak

An electron microscope shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 emerging from the surface of cells. The virus causes COVID-19. NIAID-RML/via AP

The announcement that Tulsa’s first two cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed made what had seemed a more abstract issue suddenly very real for many Tulsans.

Before that, many had felt, if not immune from the threat, at least not at immediate risk because of our distance from epidemic centers.

It was a fool’s paradise. Italy and Tulsa may be on opposite sides of the world, but that world is really very small and interconnected as we saw played out locally and nationally in many ways last week.

While science works on a more comprehensive solution to the challenge, there are things you can do to protect yourself and others.

• Don’t panic. It does nothing to protect you and can lead you to do things against your best interests and society’s.

• Wash your hands. Ordinary hygiene isn’t a satisfying recommendation because it’s supposed to be ordinary. But given the current risk it becomes more critical that everyone wash their hands, routinely, thoroughly and consistently.

• Maintain social distance. It may be time for the old-fashioned handshake to disappear in favor of the friendly nod or some other custom. Last week, many groups ended up canceling or postponing events, sometimes at great cost. We applaud everyone who balanced their need against public health and made the right choice.

• Don’t go to work sick. Even if you’re convinced it is something less exotic than coronavirus, stay home. More and more businesses are moving toward allowing employees to telecommute from home, which makes good sense. Electrons don’t carry COVID-19.

• Limit your travel. Spring break — with its traditions of young people congregating on beaches and practicing everything but good hygiene — is frightening. Stay home this year, kids, and tell your parents to do the same.

Why bother? If we’re all going to get the virus, isn’t next week as good as the week after that?

Actually, there are both personal and social reasons to rejecting that thinking.

As an individual, you should remember that some people won’t get infected; you can increase your chances of being in that group by limiting your risk.

As a society, we need to realize that our health system cannot possibly handle a rapid infection of a huge portion of the population; good social habits, broadly practiced, can flatten the infection curve and prevent a health care system overload.

COVID-19 is forcing a lot of social change very fast. Our ability to adapt to its challenges may well determine if we have a healthy future.

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