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Common sense, transparency needed with coronavirus

Gov. Kevin Stitt and other officials discuss coronavirus in Oklahoma. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Gov. Kevin Stitt and other officials discuss coronavirus in Oklahoma. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

Coronavirus appeared in Oklahoma officially last week, with a case confirmed in Tulsa. Others are certain to arise as testing becomes more widely available. Jitters are evident, and understandable — the disease has claimed at least 26 lives in the United States and more than 4,000 worldwide.

Amid this, Oklahoma health experts and elected officials are doing their best to reassure residents. What they’re saying needs to be heeded.

Such as what Eddie Withers, epidemiologist for the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, told attendees at a town hall Saturday held by U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma City.

Withers said coronavirus is similar to influenza. “This is nothing we haven’t seen before and, honestly, it won’t be the last time we probably see something like this,” he said. “It’s important to do the steps that you can do, the preventive measures that you can control, and that’s the way to get through it.”

Businesses, churches and other organizations have instituted those preventive measures. The former are allowing employees to work from home when feasible. Many churches have discontinued interpersonal greetings. Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City have been discouraged from having parishioners hold hands or shake hands. Churches have been asked not to use the “common cup” during the Eucharist, with the faithful being urged to receive the Communion host in their hand instead of on their tongue.

A Lutheran pastor quoted in a recent story in The Oklahoman said his church’s motto is “No offense, common sense.” That’s perfect.

People are being encouraged to take the same precautions as they would if they were concerned with getting the flu — a disease that, it’s worth remembering, has caused an estimated 12,000 to 61,000 U.S. deaths each year since 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and which U.S. health officials stress is having “much more of an impact” on Americans than COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Those precautions include washing hands regularly throughout the day and using hand sanitizer, forgoing handshakes and hugs, avoiding large crowds, getting enough rest and exercise, eating right, etc.

Concerns are heightened because tests aren’t widely available (despite President Trump’s recent assurances to the contrary) and there isn’t yet a vaccine. But researchers are working relentlessly to come up with one, and government officials are doing what they can — Congress last week approved an $8.3 billion package directed toward the coronavirus.

After the first Oklahoma case was identified — it involved a man who recently had been in Italy, which has been hard hit — Gov. Kevin Stitt said Oklahoma’s health system “is working.”

“At this time there is no evidence of community spread and the risk to the general public remains low,” Stitt said.

State Health Commissioner Gary Cox may have made the most important point. To help avoid a panic, Cox said, “We think transparency is the best way to go and getting out accurate information.”

Amen. Officials should keep the information coming, and residents should make common sense their guide.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›