Don't wait to prepare for coronavirus

Mar 05, 2020

U.S. Sen. Angus King, independent of Maine, announced Feb. 26 that he was joining a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Public Health Emergency Response and Accountability Act, which would create a permanent reserve fund to enable quick and effective responses to future public health emergencies. The legislation comes as the coronavirus epidemic continues to threaten to develop into a pandemic, and after the administration has abolished or ignored programs designed to address these types of international threats. The legislation is also supported by Sens. Bill Cassidy, M.D., R-La.; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; and Tina Smith, D-Minn.

We are glad to see Maine's junior senator helping to keep attention focused on the need to prepare for what many health officials acknowledge is the inevitable spread of COVID-19 around the globe. While we still have time to prepare, our government should be counseling Americans about how to get ready for the spread of the virus in communities — supplies to have on hand in case the health care system becomes overwhelmed and mild cases must be cared for at home, the need for cross-training of employees so absenteeism doesn't shut down our economy, precautions for the well and how the sick can avoid spreading the virus to others. With cases now identified in several New England states and New York, what was recently a distant threat has come to our front door.

Equally important is helping people prepare emotionally: to communicate, without panic, that things are likely to get at least moderately bad. As one article we read said, have your "Oh, my God!" moment now, not when the illness is widespread. Many people will get sick. Social isolation — staying away from other people — will be necessary to keep the spread of disease to a manageable level. It will be important to prioritize protecting health care workers, who will be on the front lines of an epidemic; for example, by not hoarding face masks and other protective equipment they need.

There are still things that have not been pinned down about this virus, including exactly how it is transmitted, whether and how long a person can be contagious without showing symptoms, the factors affecting how many people will die from it and more. There is also hope: it appears that in countries with robust health care systems, the great majority of cases are mild, meaning they do not require respiratory support. Work is proceeding rapidly on treatments for the illness and vaccines against the virus.

But there will still be a period of months, possibly up to a year or more, before more than treatment of symptoms is available, and we must prepare now for a what is likely to be a hard time to come.

Doing that will be the best possible antidote to excessive fear.

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