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Coming Together In Chaos

Wash your hands. Avoid large gatherings. Stay home if you’re sick. Cough into your elbow. We’ve heard these instructions constantly the last few weeks and will continue to as the COVID-19 pandemic response is still in the early stages. Our federal government was disastrously unprepared. It is likely to get worse before it gets better. Finally the health bureaucracies and experts are beginning to organize managing the response. In the meantime, it is our job as Americans to take this crisis seriously in our own lives.

Now is not the time to be dismissive or afraid of overreacting. Overreaction (but not panic) is preferable to under-response. As I write this there are no confirmed cases in Western New York. That could change by the time this prints. There is certainly infected individuals among us who simply have not been tested yet.

New York State leads the nation in confirmed cases. Forget your feelings toward Governor Cuomo, be thankful that he is taking this seriously and administering and effective response. Politics don’t matter in a time of crisis. Having an executive who is competent and serious about mobilizing government resources is the difference between life and death. As he said though, “This is not some science fiction movie come to life.” We must not give in to hysteria but we must be vigilant to protect our fellow citizens. COVID-19 is a public health emergency, to be sure, and we are still very unaware of how pervasive it is.

Don’t share posts online just because your friend posted it. Comparisons to the flu or common cold are irresponsible and dangerous. Listen to public health experts when it comes to medical information.

Look, I am a healthy young man. I could be infected by the coronavirus and recover in a couple weeks no problem. Most of you might too. But even if you think “you’ll be fine” going to a party or vacation or flight, you have a responsibility to avoid potentially spreading this disease. You put people you love at risk. The healthcare system is already being stressed to its limits. More hospitals risk being overcrowded and understaffed. Set aside your personal desires and conveniences. Remember that defeating this thing requires us to act as one American and indeed one global population.

I work in County Government and I admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed by a sense of angst and existential dread these last few weeks and for the future. The work, news, and chatter is all-consuming. This is not to mention the enormous economic effect we have already seen. It will continue to get worse as local businesses struggle and workers are laid off.

What gives me great hope is America’s ability to come together in times of great chaos and uncertainty and to sacrifice for the collective good. It sounds a bit hokey maybe, but we will come together and be stronger for it. No politician or doctor or movie star will be our hero, though. We, humanity, are all in this fight.

Derek Smith is a Frewsburg native.

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