I wish I could hug doctors, nurses, caretakers in nursing homes, paramedics, grocery store workers — or at least shake their hand. But that would deserve a proper punch to my nose today, wouldn’t it? That’s exactly the wrong thing to do now.

What makes many of us feel the best, that person-to-person interaction in a warm way, is the worst thing for us in this moment. That’s because there’s a third equation to consider in each human interaction in the U.S. right now — coronavirus.

This virus is devious. The accounts of many who have suffered with it are just brutal. The deaths are real, and coronavirus is not to be ignored. We need collective discipline to stop it. Think about those two words, “collective discipline.” Can we muster such a thing? Can this fractured society function as one on anything? COVID-19 is a true test in this way. At a deeper level, we are finding out what we are made of.

The truest way to show love and appreciation for those protecting us is to stay out of each other’s way for as long as needed. That will actually save lives and help the economy in the long run. We also need all health care workers to have everything they need to do their jobs. I love the fact that we have local citizens sewing face masks for health workers. That is really beautiful, but also tragic, because we need a better national plan in place for the safety of those saving us. And we need to make sure we are never caught off guard like this again.

I don’t buy into the idea that there’s this choice of either sacrificing lives or the economy. The lieutenant governor in Texas suggested old people should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the economy. This is no answer. And isn’t that the old “death-panel” argument given an actual voice? The suggestion is inhumane. It ignores the joy of life that old people still feel. Old age is when many people finally see things clearly and can live with more contentment. The elderly bring joy, value and wisdom to many younger lives. They are essential, not expendable.

This cold-hearted suggestion is also rooted in the false premise that only old people are affected by this disease. That’s just not true. And our economy won’t function well if our death counts skyrocket, even if there’s a lifting on any restrictions. Will you feel comfortable crowded tight on any bleachers or in any restaurant if death counts soar? I won’t. The longer the virus lingers, the worse it will be for the economy. We will need a new kind of consumer confidence to be the same kind of restaurant goer, or movie watcher, or ball game attendee we were. That confidence will come as random coughs and sneezes lose their current fear factor.

But they will. And this is going to pass. I say that a lot to myself these days. I say that with supreme confidence and faith in its truth. All things pass on this earth. No, this isn’t going pass right now, or perhaps for quite some time. My daughter keeps asking, “How long?” as if I’m some authority on the question. My opinion has no more weight than hers. I just tell her that this trapped moment will pass. It’s just going to take a lot of patience. This is not a good answer to a 14-year-old girl, or a 47-year-old man who feels stir crazy, too.

But it will pass much more quickly if everybody recognizes the collective discipline we need now. If you have the inner question, should I go out? Your answer should be “no.” If your answer is, “I have absolutely no choice,” then that’s a different matter.

In the meantime, I want to do whatever I can to help us get information we need locally in this moment. I am open to suggestions. I am just a guy muddling along in this surreal time, trying to figure out what’s what, just like you are. I’ve never been in this predicament before.

I want to give a hug to a lot of people in my life. I am eager for normalcy and camaraderie. Everyone is.

I’m also already terribly fatigued with this story, those noon and 7 p.m. coronavirus updates by the Georgia Department of Health. I have a folder on my desktop labeled “Coronavirus.” It’s rapidly filling with documents. I dream of a day when I drag that folder into some archive, where it’s no longer today’s work, but yesterday’s. Unfortunately, that folder isn’t leaving my desktop anytime soon, but fortunately, that day will come.

We just all need to make smart choices in this time of a real and unprecedented threat. It’s on me. It’s on you, too. But we will get through this.

Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal, a sister newspaper of The Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at zach@mainstreetnews.com

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