Our View: Coronavirus a reason for precautions, not panic

This is a time to take precautions, but not a time to panic.

The novel coronavirus that is spreading across the United States and the world is a serious problem, and it should be taken seriously.

This virus is more contagious than the flu, and the COVID-19 disease it causes is many times more deadly. The virus may be more prevalent among the populace than we realize because of the lack of testing thus far. A vaccine remains months away.

While those who are young and healthy may think catching the bug would be nothing more than a nuisance, there are many groups for whom COVID-19 is a dire threat, particularly elderly people or those with compromised immune systems.

So it's critical that all of us work together and do what we can to stop – or slow – the contagion, for the sake of ourselves, our loved ones, and our friends and neighbors.

Coronavirus can be contained. South Korea, for example, was an early epicenter of the outbreak. But the government and people there took proactive measures, with drive-through testing stations, a concerted effort by health officials to notify the public about areas of contagion, and other steps to limit interpersonal contact, dubbed "social distancing."

Our federal government failed to take this virus seriously for weeks, and as a result, the disease has spread around the country with limited testing capabilities. Though valuable time was lost, the tide may be turning now that the stock market has crashed and lives are at risk.

In Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker and public health officials have been proactive in meeting this challenge, and we thank them for taking this outbreak seriously from the start, and communicating daily with the public about the situation. Keeping people informed helps them protect themselves and others.

It’s up to all of us to keep cool heads and make smart decisions in our daily activities.

It's not necessary to hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer. If you're agitated or anxious about the state of current events, calm yourself before you get behind the wheel and drive.

For now, we should listen to experts. Avoid large public gatherings, touching your face, eyes and mouth, and cover coughs and sneezes. Businesses should allow workers to do their jobs remotely if at all possible. Stay home if you’re feeling ill, and leave work if you fall ill while there. If you’re running a fever or have respiratory symptoms, stay off of airplanes and trains.

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic illness to strike humankind, nor is it the scariest. Past generations have confronted viral illnesses such as polio, AIDS, cholera and smallpox. In time, medical science found solutions and restored our peace of mind. It will do so again.

Our communities, state, and country will weather this storm. How soon the clouds lift depends on how many of us can keep cool heads and make good choices in daily life.