Understanding and acceptance of what we are all going through in response to the coronavirus pandemic requires understanding of a fairly complex set of facts and premises. It is important that we all come to an understanding of these matters and get beyond any doubt and suspicion that persists in our community.

This new coronavirus is highly contagious and most easily transferred from person to person. The single best way to stop the spread of this dangerous virus is to limit close contact with other people. The distance recommended by health experts is six feet. The virus can survive on inorganic surfaces, yet soap (and some other reagents) disrupts the membrane of the virus and destroys it. That is why, in addition to limiting direct contact with other people, health experts are advising people to wash their hands frequently (for 20 seconds to make sure the soap and water permeate the entire surface of your hands) and to refrain from touching your face, which could transfer the virus into your system.

Some people in our community claim these precautions are alarmist or even suspicious, given the small number of people in our region who have tested positive for the virus. What this attitude fails to account for is that there is no comprehensive testing policy or strategy for the virus and it is possible to carry the virus while showing no symptoms of the disease associated with it. (See the new case of the actor Idris Elba.) That is why the health director for the state of Illinois is reasonable rather than alarmist in advising the public to treat everyone with the same precautions appropriate for someone who has tested positive for the virus. There is no reason to assume this highly contagious and dangerous virus is not circulating much more widely in our community than the very few positive tests to date would indicate.

Furthermore, the time to stop the spread of a highly contagious virus with no known cure is precisely before the virus is widespread. Waiting for a large number of positive tests before taking precaution means literally to avoid taking precaution. Anyone who wants to see what the future looks like without taking proper precautions need only look at Italy, which is under lockdown with a failing hospital system, or San Francisco, which is under lockdown hoping that drastic precaution is not being taken too late to avoid a failing hospital system. Anyone who feels that our public officials are overreacting and imposing restrictions and precautions too soon are in fact wrong by at least a month, if not two or three.

In retrospect, we ourselves were not raising the alarm as early as we might have been and therefore cannot fairly fault our regional public officials for not acting fast enough. It is certainly unfair and dangerous to accuse our public officials of overreacting now as they announce limits on public gatherings, suspend public schools and close public spaces. To be very clear (and, again, looking to Italy as an indicator), there is no choice between limiting public contact and continuing life as we know it. The only choice is making these necessary changes now and limiting future suffering and death – or delaying these adjustments and thereby increasing future suffering and death and prolonging the period of time during which we are all inconvenienced and hurt by the absence of social contact and economic opportunity.

To speak of ourselves, we have had no choice but to suspend the St. Louis American Foundation’s quarterly Salute to Excellence recognition series, first by postponing the Salute to Excellence in Healthcare that had been scheduled for April, with future repercussions for other Salute events in 2020 that are yet unknown. While we are determined to persist in our continuous weekly publication that has been ongoing for almost a century, our readers should expect a slimmer newspaper available in decreased numbers while we all adjust to this new uncomfortable and painful reality. We can promise you our website Stlamerican.com and social media will be, as always, continuously updated and posted with our newspaper content.

No one publishes a community newspaper or hosts an annual series of public recognition events who does not care for their community. We care deeply for you and your well-being. We want you to be healthy. We want you to be here. We beg you to move beyond any doubt and suspicion and to take deathly seriously all of the warnings and precautions you are hearing. Limit your contact with other people. Stay home, especially if you’re unwell. Do not project any cough or any sneeze. Carefully wash your hands after you have been in public. Refrain from retouching your face. Our health, lives and future happiness depend on one another. Now more than ever, we are only as healthy, strong and wise as our least healthy, weakest and most foolish. Now more than ever, we are all called upon to be cautious, strong, wise, and obey the restrictions recommended to inhibit the spread of COVID-19. Some people will say we’re overreacting if the worst doesn’t happen, but the truth is, we will have avoided the tragedy that never happened. 

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