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OUR VIEW: Try to see virus alerts as giving us forewarning

OUR VIEW: Try to see virus alerts as giving us forewarning

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Perhaps we should simply consider ourselves under a coronavirus watch.

When there’s a storm watch, we don’t batten the hatches and wait for something that might not be coming after all. But we prepare as best as we’re able.

We all react differently to those watches. Sometimes the forecast is insistent or troubling, and it prompts a bit of panic for some of us. Are you frustrated by shortages of toilet paper and hand sanitizer? Probably just as frustrated as you are about shortages of milk and bread when we think a bad snowstorm is coming.

There’s nothing wrong with buying toilet paper or sanitizer. Try not to hoard, and don’t forget what you have in storage when the next threat comes along.

We shrug and laugh and mock when forecasts of six inches of snow turns into an inch and melts away in 24 hours. We rarely think to be grateful when an alert keeps us or our loved ones off the road, or we’re warned soon enough to avoid a horrific situation.

The actions sparked by an alert are as unique as the number of people hearing the alert. How many of your friends on social media are suddenly medical experts? How many times have you been reminded of deaths from the regular old flu versus the number or coronavirus deaths?

We’re in a curious position in Central Illinois. An individual with a confirmed case or coronavirus came through Central Illinois on Amtrak. The train made stops in Bloomington, Lincoln and Springfield. While that contact, and the contact of those who may have interacted with the woman, isn’t at our front doors, it is close enough to remind us that preparation is vital.

But that doesn’t mean we quarantine someone who is clearing their throat. There’s a difference between a cough caused by dry air or a dry mouth and one caused by a virus. This isn’t a movie where the protagonist coughs and the camera catches a concerned person. We need to do our best to evaluate our health status as we go along. As always, one of the best things you can do for those around you is to stay home when you’re sick. That goes for the flu, a cold and the coronavirus alike.

Setting aside one warning after another becomes increasingly difficult. The World Health Organization on Wednesday officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Eight countries — including the U.S. — are now each reporting more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, caused by the virus that has infected more than 120,000 people worldwide. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “… we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher."

In spite of the thoughts of those who bury their heads in proverbial sand, media outlets aren’t fear-mongering by mentioning the coronavirus. What would the reaction be to ignoring reports from around the world? In addition, it wasn’t “the media” that shut down the entire country of Italy or who banned gatherings of more 1,000 people (as has been done in California cities Santa Clara and San Francisco) or who postponed or cancelled entertainment events, including the large and legendary Coachella Festival and South by Southwest. Not to mention the closer-to-home annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago. Or the NCAA men's basketball championships, which will be played with only families and essential staff present.

In fact, as we continue to see public gathering spots become a place of concern about the coronavirus, an additional concern becomes the economic impact. Governments are already anticipating the issues. President Trump is pushing a tax cut. Italy has set aside a large amount to deal with fallout there.

If there’s anything deserving of our concern, it’s Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s complaint that not enough testing kits have been made available, and that’s an alarm being sounded around the country.

There’s still plenty of time to panic. There’s also plenty of time to be sensible. Continue washing your hands, cover your mouth with the inside of your arm and turn away from people when you cough, and continue to practice diligent hygiene.

Make sure the sources you’re citing with your coronavirus facts are reputable ones. And try to ignore the underinformed in your life.

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