“At Times Like This We Must Come Together as Americans”: What the President Should Have Said about the Coronavirus

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My fellow Americans,

Many of you have been following the spread of COVID-19, sometimes referred to as the “coronavirus.” The rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases around the world has been alarming. What started off just five weeks ago in a single Chinese province has now grown to more than 80,000 cases in 60 nations, including more than 60 confirmed cases in the United States. Our public health officials believe that there will be more.

There is no reason to panic. For most people, COVID-19 is not fatal. Most people who are infected with the virus experience symptoms similar to the flu, and most cases end with full recovery. The United States has some of the best public health professionals in the world, and they are doing everything they can to identify cases and contain the spread of this disease.

However, the virus can be very dangerous for some people. Oldedr adults and those with weak immune systems are disproportionally at risk. If the coronavirus is not contained, it will spread in the United States the way that it has already spread in other countries, and many of the most vulnerable people in our society will suffer the most.

By taking some very small precautionary steps, howevert, we can work together to slows this outbreak down, contain its effects, and give our public health officials the time that they need to understand what we are up against and figure out how to beat it. But this will only work if we all take these steps, even if there is no evidence of an outbreak in our immediate vicinity.

Fortunately, these things are not difficult. More than anything else, we have to remember to wash our hands frequently. Soap and water are still the best defense against any number of contagions, including the coronavirus. Other steps recommended by our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include:

  • Stay home when you are sick, especially when you are experiencing respiratory disease symptoms.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash can.
  • If soap and water are not readily available to wash your hands regularly, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
  • Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces and objects.

This is all good advice in any situation. If you never encounter the coronavirus — and most of you never will — you will end up with clean hands, a cleaner home, and healtheir co-workers. And if you are, without knowing it, one of the few people who do come into contact with the virus, these precautions will make sure that you do not inadvertently spread it to anyone else.

Also, please avoid unnecessary travel to areas that have been affected by the coronavirus. Most of the cases in the United States have come from people infected through foreign travel. This is not a permanent thing. Both the United States and the world will eventually get this under control. But for now, it is a good idea to pay close attention to the CDC travel advisories and avoid going places where there is an elevated risk of encountering COVID-19.

And one last thing: I implore you, with all of the authority I can muster, not to use this public health emergency to turn against each other. My fellow Republicans need to stop blaming Democrats, Democrats need to stop blaming Republicans, and no American should use this outbreak as an excuse to stigmatize or fear those who come from nations or regions wherenthe virus is more advanced. Those whose friends and family are suffering are not enemies; they are fellow human beings who are undergoing a crisis with us. We need each other’s help.

At times like this, we must come together as Americans and protect each other from the ravages of this new disease. If we use this outbreak as a reason to blame each other, or to dig deeper into our silos and echo chambers, the situation will get worse. This is a public health emergency that we must greet with an outpouring of public virtue.

Viruses are not anybody’s fault, and they do not work for one side and against another. This is not an election issue, it is an American issue and a human issue. We can do this together. We cannot do it alone.

Written by

Michael Austin is a former English professor and current academic administrator. He is the author of We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America’s Civic Tradition

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