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Our Opinion: A time for calm leadership from everyone

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This might be the week the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic really hits home in the United States, with sharp upticks widely expected in the number of people who are infected and seeking treatment.

This is not a surprise, and readers should not be panicked by the quick growth in the number of cases being reported — which has been the experience everywhere this virus has struck. As of Monday afternoon, Vermont's number of cases had increased by 23, to a total of 75. By the time you read this, that number will certainly have increased.

And yet, despite all our fears about health and safety, now is not the time to panic.

Rather, it's the time to lead by example, by acknowledging the facts and facing them with the can-do attitude and ingenuity that Vermonters have relied upon for generations.

How we interact with each other will go a long way in determining how we meet the challenge. The state's elected leaders, from Gov. Phil Scott to our local lawmakers, have wisely modeled such behavior so far, leading by word and example.

Social media and technology can be powerful forces for good in this situation, provided you are following reputable sources. They have helped us maintain human connections at a time when we've been forced to isolate ourselves, and kept us informed about what we can do, and how we can help.

Area churches have used technology to hold virtual services. Musicians have performed their songs online for all to hear. Even race car drivers have gotten in on the act, using the iRacing software platform to stage a virtual NASCAR race on Sunday afternoon on national television.

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But the internet is also an angry place, where fear and panic are easily stoked into blaming a nameless, faceless "other" for our troubles.

True leadership requires that we resist the temptation to divide and conquer, and use our voices to bring the community together. Just as social distancing and sheltering in place will deny the virus means to spread, choosing a positive, productive tone over fear mongering and scapegoating will help keep panic at bay, and result in a better outcome.

That doesn't mean we should pretend everything's rosy; one glance at the headlines tells us that's not true. But it does mean being more careful in what to say, and how to say it. Think of internet snark as you'd think of cumin or sriracha pepper sauce: It's a seasoning, not a flavor.

As a matter of common sense, it doesn't do a lot of good to take to the internet to complain about kids congregating in the park. Those kids aren't reading forum posts while they're skateboarding or playing basketball.

If you're not comfortable approaching a person or persons to ask that they please maintain a safe distance on the trail or the supermarket aisle, or that throwing a house party at times like this is a tone-deaf and dangerous choice, call the proper authorities in your town. But be productive, and model the best behavior to your family and friends.

In the meantime, if you somehow weren't taking COVID-19 seriously until this week, let this be the time to start. Wash your hands. Stay home and maintain social distancing of six feet. Quarantine yourself if you're not feeling well. Don't take part in or host gatherings.

We will get through this — together.


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