Keep Calm and Carry On, but also stop doing all these things, too.

The people buying up all the toilet paper need to calm right down.

Who else needs to calm down is all the people telling everyone to calm down.

Whether you realize it or not, the novel coronavirus is serious stuff. Comparisons to the flu are quite misleading. Yes, the flu killed 34,000 people in 2018–19 in the United States. It did so with a .1% death rate. Meaning there were at least 34 million cases of the flu last year. That number reflects the results of public health efforts to raise awareness, vaccinate, and reduce risk. If not for these things, the toll would be much higher each year. And that’s with a minuscule death rate.

Consider what it will look like if 34 million people get COVID-19. If that happens, we could expect closer to 1 million deaths. The more people get it, the more that number goes up.

This is not meant to scare people, but to prepare people for the serious public policy response we are seeing in many places and likely to see everywhere else.

We should all expect school and college closings, canceled events, travel bans, mass quarantines, and more over the coming months and possibly again next fall.

The idea is to slow the progression of this pandemic so the medical community can catch up with it in the long run, with a vaccine or effective treatment, and handle it in the meantime.

The only way we are going to get through this without crippling our health system and losing millions of people is by “overreacting.”

I’ve been telling those close to me that we need to stop thinking like we’re Americans in 2020 and start thinking like the British in 1940. We can learn a lot from them in that time.

We are, essentially, now at war, and we need a war footing. In 1939, looking the prospect of war and air raids in the face, the British government began telling people to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

This was a PR campaign to boost morale. Effective, because we still remember it. But it’s important to remember that it didn’t mean people kept going about their day as they did before the war. Everyone changed their behavior. And everyone’s lives were impacted.

Schools closed, factories switched what they were making to support the war effort, and those who could moved to their country homes. Not to mention those who joined the war effort, directly.

And, throughout this time, everyone suffered. Shops shut down, universities changed what and how they taught, primary schools closed in certain cities, as children were evacuated.

Now, I’m not suggesting we evacuate kids or all join the army. But the point is that every aspect of our daily lives will likely be impacted over the next several months as we grapple with COVID-19. This is necessary to reduce and control the impact of this deadly virus.

We all need to follow health protocols, avoid crowds, reduce our time in public spaces. If you’re in charge of a business or organization, change that meeting to a conference call, enable employees to work from home, and make sure your work culture encourages people to stay home when ill. If you’re on a conference call, and you hear a kid whining in the background, just accept it. These are minor things that could slow the virus to a more manageable level.

Also know that the months ahead are going to hurt. Companies are not going to make their numbers, people are going to lose their jobs, and schools are going to close in mass to prevent the spread of the virus. Many colleges already have.

Policy makers, for their part, need to understand the flexibility that will be needed to deal with this, and also help create systems of support. For instance, we should not be holding schools accountable to the set number of days state education departments require students to be in the classroom each year. That random number should not weigh on a superintendent’s decision whether to close schools for a week due to a local outbreak. More important things are at stake.

We should also do what we can to support wage workers who cannot take sick leave, and small businesses who are going to suffer as more people get in their bunkers and quarantine themselves, and the people who are going to get behind on the mortgages, and the big businesses that may be tempted to cut staff as the economic ripples impact their bottom line.

This is going to hurt, and be expensive.

In the face of all this, we certainly need to Stay Calm, as the adage instructs. Everyone needs to resist the urge to hoard, or price gouge, or let this crisis tear at the fabric of our civil society.

Instead, we should set up phone chains with our neighbors and community Facebook groups, so we can support eachother should a family we know need a scarce resource or be put under quarantined. And we should do what we can to support local businesses, who are going to suffer greatly in the months ahead.

That’s the Carry On part. Because we need to continue to be who we are. Resolute. Strong. United.

That’s how we will get through this.

The good news, once we get to the warm months, we should see a natural dip in new cases. That too will give the medical community more time.

And if this thing does blow over, as some “optimists” are suggesting, it will be because we took appropriate steps to thwart it now.

Simply put: The next few months are probably gonna suck.

Be Calm and Carry On, while also respecting that we will all need to make sacrifices to get through this.

Also, remember to wash your hands.

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