The fears that today seem baked into the fabric of our daily lives—and which keep the Internet and Blogosphere at a brisk boil—are breaking both our brains and our spirits. Children now learn how to kill adults with school scissors during active shooter drills. Many teenagers are convinced the world will end in an ecological apocalypse during the next decade, so they flop around miserably awaiting their inevitable doom. Adults wonder how—and if—to raise children in a world that social media assures them is rife with hatred, violence, death, destruction, misery, and loneliness.
And now we have a new panic: Coronavirus.
As a result, we are stocking up on canned vegetables and toilet paper, hunting for face masks, flinching whenever someone coughs, and avoiding eating in Chinese restaurants. However, given that virus scares—Swine Flu, Herpes, HIV, SARS, and others—have been the background of much of my adult life, I perhaps am prone to adopting a wait and see attitude regarding whether we are all going to die.
I am not being flippant. I simply want to avoid worrying when worry is not yet warranted. This particular virus could be as bad as some believe, but as of now I am presuming appropriate travel restrictions, quarantine procedures, and medical care will blunt the impact of the latest doomsday bug. As is the case with all communicable diseases, this will be a bigger problem in urban areas where transmission is facilitated by close human contact, seriously affect the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, and push medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies to find effective treatments and—if possible—a cure.
We must discern the difference between protecting ourselves and inflaming our fears in order to avoid harming both ourselves and others. It is appropriate to monitor our own health and that of those around us at home and work; ostracizing people of Asian ancestry and refusing to eat Dim Sum is just plain dumb. This is a time when we must resist the very human urge to push away others out of panic. Our best protection is to be found through cooperation.
In addition, we must be willing to invest public dollars in private businesses and medical research centers that have the means and talent to develop treatments and, one can only hope, a vaccine. Our experiences with the efforts to address other infectious diseases since the mid-twentieth century should guide our actions going forward. Polio, for example, was once a scourge that afflicted tens of thousands of American each year and terrified us; today annual U.S. Polio cases number in the double digits.
The difference between the fear of yesterday and the hope of today has been the years of intensive biomedical research supported by both government grants and private charity that eventually led to a workable and effective Polio vaccine. Polio survivors worldwide also enjoy longer and better lives now due to vastly improved treatments and methods of rehabilitation, and they daily remind us that even the most deadly diseases can be managed.
Stocking up on non-perishable foods and analgesics in case it is necessary to self-quarantine is a reasonable response; stocking up on ammunition because you are convinced the end is nigh is nuts.
Use your phone to stay connected with neighbors, colleagues, and family. Remain at home and contact your healthcare provider if you suspect that you are ill with Coronavirus. Cooperate with Public Health authorities and do not share speculation pretending to be fact. Wash your hands frequently, sanitize surfaces, and avoid unnecessary physical contact if that is a precaution necessitated by conditions in your local area.
Most of all, don’t allow panic to dictate your actions. To do so will harm you, harm your community, and harm our nation’s response to yet another in a series of public health crises that also once seemed like the end of the world—but which we overcame by coming together rather than splitting apart.