Challenging times are ahead for Malheur County, the state and the country. The novel coronavirus outbreak is already changing life, and everyone needs to anticipate more ahead. A key antidote to panic and anxiety is trusted information.

Health officials at every level are urging Americans to take steps to protect themselves. Most of it is common sense that should be in place anyway. You know, cover your mouth when you cough. Wash your hands thoroughly after contact. Stay home from work or school if you are sick.

In other words, the ability to fend off the coronavirus infection is literally in everyone’s hands.

One of the other best steps we can all take is to stop with the rumors. Particularly in a rural area like Malheur County, one whisper turns into a chorus of comments along the lines of “I heard that…” Already, there have been instances where people practically swear that they know of someone in the county who’s infected.

Look, officials from Sarah Poe, the director of the Malheur County Health Department, on down are in overdrive, watching for any hint the virus is here and ready to act if it appears. As has been the case in other Oregon counties, officials will announce if someone from a particular county has been diagnosed as infected. Poe and her team and the crew at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario are the experts now, and they ought to be heeded.

There have been some keyboard warriors suggesting government officials and the press are hyping the coronavirus. We’ve seen some even go so far as to say the cases have been inflated as a way to get more money from taxpayers. First off, that’s nonsense. No one – not any official we can find – has suggested raising taxes as the antidote to COVID-19. Second, government agencies at all levels have emergency reserves for just such crises. Finally, if more is needed, there are also deep reserves at both the state and federal level to help authorities react.

Medical authorities are pretty clear that they are learning by the day about this virus. They think they know who is most vulnerable – the elderly, those with compromised health – and they think they know how it spreads – person-to-person contact is primary. But they are learning as they go, and that’s good for us all. We don’t want doctors and technicians overlooking new information that helps treat or impair the virus.

The impacts of this outbreak are going to be substantial, no question. The anxiety in communities already aware that the coronavirus is somewhere in the neighborhood is high. Some employers are already telling workers to do their jobs from home. The economy is being badly rattled, conferences are being scrubbed and now federal authorities say to avoid cruise ships. It’s not hard to imagine the moment such impacts trickle down to Malheur County.

Every person in the county has a stake in what’s ahead. And every person has duties to themselves, their families and to the community. Watch your own health closely. If you feel sick, don’t panic but don’t ignore it. Stay home is the primary advice from medical folks. If you are truly concerned, call – don’t visit – your doctor.

Stay informed. Please, please don’t rely on television talking heads to be your sources of information. Don’t turn to doubtful sources on Facebook or Twitter or other social media outlets for your medical advice. Instead, look for information directly or reported from credible authorities. The federal Centers for Disease Control, under President Trump’s control, and the Oregon Health Authority are invaluable sources for you. Find and keep visiting their websites.

Health officials fully expect the coronavirus to spread in Oregon and across the country. That’s a given, they say. Pay close attention to what they advise and don’t substitute your own conclusions for theirs. All it would take is for one infected person in Malheur County to disregard guidance and roam through the community as a kind of a Typhoid Mary. No one wants that, our elderly can’t tolerate it, and the economy here certainly can’t stand the withering that would accompany a local outbreak. – LZ

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