What can you do? The virus is infectious and may be transmitted by someone who has just started to feel the symptoms. A new study, not yet peer-reviewed, also suggests the virus may replicate in the throat as well as the lungs, meaning that a cough could easily broadcast it. We need to learn more about the virus and the illness it causes, but it is not too early to begin vigorous, careful social distancing. Avoid large crowds. Workplaces should turn as much as possible to video conferencing. Avoid big meetings and food-sharing. If you can work from home, do so.
All nonessential large social gatherings should be reconsidered and, if possible, postponed. Sports games might proceed without fans, but concerts may have to be delayed. Political campaigns can proceed without rallies. A St. Patrick’s Day parade is a bad idea. Cruise ships are turning out to be virus incubators — don’t take a spring break cruise. Air travel poses risks of exposure to large numbers of people: If you don’t have to fly, don’t. If you’re sick, stay home so as not to expose others. If you’re an employer, keep paying your workers who do the right thing and stay home when they’re sick.
Voting is vital to the health of our democracy, but it can be organized to minimize the risks of infection. Schools are a difficult question. They could prove to be transmission grounds. But closing schools means cutting off meals for needy students and straining life for parents — including nurses, doctors and other health-care workers. If schools are kept open, rigorous mitigation measures must be enforced.
Personal hygiene won’t solve everything but is important. In addition to hand-washing, avoid face-touching, and follow good cough and sneeze etiquette. The elderly are particularly vulnerable, according to early studies of the virus, so extraordinary efforts should be taken to protect them from possible infection.
The U.S. health-care system — and especially hospitals — may soon be overwhelmed by pandemic. Front-line health-care workers will be taxed to the max. All of us have an opportunity to help stave off the virus and conserve the scarce resources of the health-care system for those who need it most.