Moving college classes online, canceling large events, playing sports in empty arenas - it all sounds pretty drastic.
But sometimes drastic measures are called for.
And this is one of those times.
The rapid spread of coronavirus demands a drastic response.
This virus is already here, and slowing it down needs to be a top priority. One of the things we do know about coronavirus is that its growth has been exponential. Italy had 62 cases on Feb. 22. Today it has more than 10,000.
We don’t want to see that kind of growth here, which is why public health experts are urging people to practice what’s known as social distancing - taking steps to limit contact with other people, especially large groups of people.
Thus far, state and local leaders have demonstrated real leadership by urging people to work from home and limit time spent on public transportation and in other public spaces.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the drastic but entirely warranted step of declaring a one-mile containment zone in the hard-hit community of New Rochelle, deploying the National Guard to clean and deliver food to quarantined individuals, and closing schools, houses of worship and community centers. On Wednesday, SUNY and CUNY schools announced plans to switch to distance learning, and the NCAA made the tough call to play tournament games without fans.
These are good steps, and while they might seem drastic now, the experience of other countries stricken by coronavirus suggests that social distancing is the key to slowing the outbreak.
That said, it is almost certain that more will need to be done - that more schools will need to be shut down and more events will need to be canceled.
On Wednesday the city of Albany announced that its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, scheduled for Saturday, will go on as planned, but urged people who are ill, elderly or have underlying medical issues to stay home. This is good advice, but it doesn’t change the fact that Albany should do what a number of other cities, including Boston, have already done, and cancel the parade.
Some will argue that people are overreacting, but I’ve seen nothing that indicates that this is the case.
Most people infected by the coronavirus will survive it, but a not-insignificant number will die.
As Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Congress on Wednesday, “The flu has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent. (Coronavirus) has a mortality rate of 10 times that. That’s the reason I want to emphasize we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this.”
I’ve often joked that social distancing is a practice I can embrace, as I’m wary of crowds and large groups in the best of times.
In truth, I enjoy going out and spending time with people, and the mass cancellation of social events and activities brings me no joy. Nor does avoiding public spaces and skipping events I was looking forward to.
But drastic times call for drastic measures, and I’m willing to do my part.