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Our Opinion: Keep calm and be smart about the virus

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To paraphrase one-time Brattleboro resident Rudyard Kipling, these are times when we are called upon to "keep your head when all about you are losing theirs."

Vermont and the world are now in the midst of a pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. The COVID-19 strain of coronavirus spreads quickly, but it is no mere cold or flu, especially for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or respiratory problems. Unlike the flu, we lack a vaccine or "herd immunity" for this illness.

This virus will not be fought by hoarding all the toilet paper, hand sanitizer, dried pasta and disposable face masks at the local supermarket. It will not be lessened by folks who act like rules are for other people by breaking quarantines.

The virus can be brought under control if we all calmly show leadership, keeping our heads when others seem to be losing theirs. This means risking disappointment and canceling events and trips that would widen exposure to the virus. It also means business leaders paying sick time to employees, so they don't come to work and make everyone else sick, or allowing workers to telecommute.

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At the national level, while no one with money in the stock market is happy with the coronavirus-related downturn, recovery is unlikely to come until the pandemic is curtailed. President Trump's proposal to eliminate the payroll tax during the pandemic as a supposed economic boost won't help the people who most need it — the unemployed and those of low income — while reducing a source of needed revenue. What the White House must do is speak with one voice about the pandemic, but the president, Vice President Mike Pence (who is nominally in charge of the federal response) and various health officials within the administration are sending out mixed messages that only heighten people's concerns.

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What people can do is follow the CDC's preventative measures to avoid becoming sick (visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov). Those measures include cleaning your hands often — washing for 20 seconds at least with soap and water or using a hand-sanitizer and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. The elderly and those with compromised immune systems must take extra care in keeping hands clean and avoiding large crowds or well-traveled areas.

Vermont has only one presumptive case of COVID-19 as this is being written, at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. But the Scott administration and elected and local leaders are treating this crisis with the seriousness it deserves, and that's a good sign. It gives us confidence, for example, when lawmakers communicate the details of health briefings on their social media channels, and when hospitals and health care organizations share their plans and concerns with the community.

But leadership doesn't end at an office door. We have to do our part, too.

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It's up to us to insist on transparency from our leaders, and to listen to the advice that might save lives. Given the public health concerns, this newspaper's coronavirus coverage online is and will remain available to all without a paywall, so that residents can keep track of rapid developments and make decisions based on facts.

It's also up to us to prevent the virus from growing at a rate faster than our health system can handle. The alternative is an overwhelmed hospital that must turn away patients — and not just coronavirus sufferers, but everyone else who needs an emergency room. Car accidents don't wait for pandemics to run their course.

Finding the balance between calm and concern isn't easy. But that is what is required as our communities join the state, nation and world in confronting the pandemic. Acquiring and heeding good information may be the best way for people to find that balance.


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