We are living in a strange, scary time right now.

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the globe and now in the United States. As of the time of this writing, March 13, there are more than 1,600 cases in the U.S. and more than 40 deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control.

There are more than 125,000 reported cases worldwide accordingt to the World Health Organization. With more than 4,600 people having died from the virus so far, that gives us a mortality rate currently between 3-4 percent. Of course, that will change with time and as we get more data. Some experts estimate the mortality rate will be closer to 1 percent.

That mortality rate might seem “low” to some people. And I think we’ve all heard someone cite the “low” mortality rate as a reason to not take this pandemic seriously. Let’s unpack that.

According to the New York Times, if we stay on our current track, roughly one third of Americans could become infected (100 million people), including more than 9 million at one time. So if the mortality rate does end up being 1 percent, that’s 1 million people dead.

With more than 7 billion people in the world, 1 million dead Americans might seem “low.” And I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, it is. But if we can do something to reduce that number, why wouldn’t we?

At the end of the day, it’s about protecting the most vulnerable among us, including the elderly. Just because you may not die from COVID-19 doesn’t mean you couldn’t become infected and then infect someone else with a compromised immune system.

Not everyone has the same health conditions as you. And our most vulnerable neighbors are not always easy to identify, like those with autoimmune diseases, asthma or diabetes. This is not the time to be self-centered and arrogant.

Aside from individual risk, we also need to consider the impact this outbreak will have on our healthcare system. Like I mentioned earlier, The New York Times said if we continue on our current track, there could be an infection peak of 9 million people.

If even a small percent of those people require hospitalization, that puts a tremendous strain on our healthcare system. We have a finite number of hospital beds, isolation rooms, equipment, and physicians and nurses. Just look at Italy, where healthcare providers are already planning for what to do when they can’t treat everyone.

The general public must do everything we can to slow the spread. And yes, that means canceling our favorite sports, events, concerts, conferences and vacations. Because I can guarantee you a parent of an immunocompromised child would much rather suffer through a month or two without sports than plan the funeral of their child.

We must also stay calm. Panicking helps no one. Hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer doesn’t make you extra prepared, it makes you a jackass.

And if you’re blaming the media for causing panic, just stop. I consume many of the same news sources as my fellow Americans, but I’m not buying up all the toilet paper at WinCo. It’s a lack of common sense and critical thinking. Which also leads to widespread sharing of fake news and misinformation, but I digress. Everyone wants to blame the media (and they’re certainly not perfect, particularly the 24-hour television news channels). But perhaps we should look at ourselves a bit more critically, too.

Eventually, COVID-19 will pass. And we can look back on it proud of the way we listened to science, shared resources, made sacrifices and looked out for each other. Or we can ignore the experts, hoard supplies, put our neighbors at unnecessary risk and make this 100 times worse.

Be a good neighbor. Take care of each other. Do your part. And for the love of god, wash your damn hands.

Meredith Metsker is an Idaho native, University of Idaho alumna and 10-year Moscow resident. A former journalist, she now works in marketing for Emsi, serves on the board of directors for Sojourners’ Alliance and is a big fan of civic engagement.

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