Catch the wrong commentary, and it may seem like the coronavirus is overblown, like the big snowstorm that never comes.

But while there is no reason to panic, it is likely that Mainers will have to deal with the budding pandemic in more than just passing.

As of Sunday, there had been more than 80,000 cases worldwide of the new coronavirus. It had reached at least 37 countries and caused about 3,000 deaths.

In the United States, there have been about 80 cases in at least six states, including Rhode Island and New Hampshire, where a case was confirmed Monday morning. The first deaths were confirmed over the weekend.

Many more cases are likely to be confirmed in the U.S. in the coming days as health officials finally begin widespread testing.

The outbreak as yet pales in comparison to the seasonal flu, which has afflicted 32 million Americans this year, causing 18,000 deaths.


However, this coronavirus appears to be more deadly and contagious than the flu. And while about 80% of those who get it exhibit mild symptoms or none at all, the reaction is severe in about 15% of cases, and critical in about 5%. Older people, the chronically ill, and those with weak immune systems are most vulnerable.

With the virus active in the U.S., the key is to stop or slow its spread so that it doesn’t overburden the health care system. There are, for example, not nearly enough mechanical ventilators available to handle a pandemic, nor are there enough health care workers, hospital beds and other supplies.

However, if cases can be confined to certain areas at certain times, then they all can be handled as they come, without any need for the sort of care rationing that keeps public health researchers and officials up at night.

That’s where we all come in. By taking steps that make it less likely you’ll require help if resources run thin, you’ll be doing your part to preserve those resources for the people who need them most.

That means washing your hands regularly, in soapy water and for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based sanitizers, too, again for 20 seconds. Keep your phones and tablets clean. Avoid touching your face. Avoid sick people. For the sake of others around you, get a flu shot for you and your child. Unless you’re already sick, forget the mask — some only keeps germs in, not out, and the best ones are needed for health care professionals.

And if you get sick, stay home if you can — the threat of a pandemic is just one more good reason workers should have paid time off.

Mainers should also be ready in case periods of isolation are necessary. They already are a fact of life in Italy, where an outbreak is underway, and for the patient identified in New Hampshire.

Experts recommend a 30-day supply of food staples and both over-the-counter and prescribed medications. If someone in your family has special health concerns, have a plan for how you will care for them.

It’s time to think of the coronavirus as a snowstorm in the forecast. Maybe we wake up tomorrow to a dusting, but we better be ready for a blizzard.

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