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Pandemic? Above all, don’t panic

Coronavirus
A view through a microscope of the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, March 14, 2020. I write this newsletter — and will be writing Opinion newsletters for the foreseeable future — from home, having been ordered by my employer to work remotely until the coronavirus crisis abates. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Last week, I closed with a plug for the new L.A. Times newsletter on COVID-19 and the coronavirus, after rounding up our commentary on Super Tuesday and the less-than-perfect rollout of Los Angeles County’s new voting system. That appeared at the bottom of the newsletter, a placement that a full seven days ago reflected the urgency with which the yet-to-be-designated pandemic was regarded.

Things have obviously changed, so I’ll include a link to our coronavirus newsletter here before discussing our Opinion commentary on the topic below.

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As for Opinion’s coverage, much of it has focused on the Trump administration’s flat-footed response to the pandemic and the public’s panic. I won’t go on about President Trump, since at this point, if you’re still in his corner, nothing I can possibly write about his appalling incompetence could convince you to reassess his fitness. Credible experts have warned that the coronavirus is already out of control in the United States, posing grave risks to a population that possesses no existing immunity to it. Now, the focus is on what individuals can do for themselves and for society’s benefit.

The L.A. Times Editorial Board has some ideas, including some basic advice: Don’t panic. It says:

“In California, state and local officials have for the most part taken appropriately cautious measures to limit public events and encourage changes in behavior to reduce contagion, while not overreacting with massive closures. So far, elected officials haven’t recommended that people hole themselves up at home, aside from those who are sick or at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. Nor have they ordered schools or businesses shut down. We hope it won’t come to that. If COVID-19 is contained soon, the wholesale shuttering of commerce and society could do more long-term harm than the virus itself.

“But there are numerous things that businesses and schools can do now to make more drastic steps unnecessary, and many already have done so voluntarily. For example, schools can limit assemblies and regularly sanitize their facilities. And businesses can allow employees, where feasible, to do their work from home. Not everyone can do their jobs remotely, but limiting the number of people coming into a centralized location reduces the opportunities for infection to spread, and that makes everyone safer.

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“We hope that a year from now we look back on this moment as the point at which the U.S. got the upper hand in the coronavirus outbreak. But for now, it seems wise to plan for the long haul — for more infections, more cancellations, more social distancing, and more bad economic news — and to respond by changing our lives cautiously, calmly and responsibly.”

The decision to close L.A. public schools is popular, but not as simple as it seems. About 8 in 10 of L.A. Unified students live in poverty, making the school district one of the most important social safety nets around. To its credit, says the editorial board, LAUSD has arranged for the delivery of lunches to needy students, but it’s still not clear how closing schools will slow the spread of COVID-19. L.A. Times

The view from Italy: Life on coronavirus lockdown is terrible. Writing from Camogli, Daniel C. Unger marvels at the swift transition from living normally, with tourists packing the beach on a Saturday, to being ordered into a strict “social distancing” regime by the next Tuesday. Reading this piece, first published March 11, gives one the unsettling sense that we’ll soon be where Italy was days ago. L.A. Times

Yes, you can read an uplifting piece about the coronavirus, even one involving an elderly sick patient. Physician Daniel J. Stone tells the story of Joe, an 81-year-old man who returned home from a trip to the Italian Alps sickened with COVID-19. So far, Joe is handling his home isolation and illness better than one might expect; he has had only a cough with no fever, and he depends on family and friends to drop off food. Perhaps Joe’s healthy lifestyle — he does not smoke, rarely drinks and eats well — helps explain his condition, Stone writes. L.A. Times

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More on the coronavirus: Don’t trust any statements this president makes about it, say readers. Two doctors write to us to say that we’re at a public health tipping point, and our social distancing measures must become more extreme. The Trump administration’s “public charge” rule will deter immigrants who may be stricken with COVID-19 from seeking treatment, warns the deputy director of the California Immigrant Policy Center. The coronavirus is Trump’s worst nightmare, writes Jonah Goldberg. Countless workers will be laid off because of the coronavirus economic slowdown; here’s how economist Heather Boushey says we can help them.

Joe Biden’s voters are showing up — where have they come from? The former vice president wasn’t particularly well-funded before he started snatching up primary victories in several states; in fact, he barely had a campaign presence in some of them. Columnist Virginia Heffernan has a hunch about Biden’s newfound appeal: “He’s regularly praised for ‘humility’ now — an odd quality for a presidential candidate, from whom voters usually want dreams, ambitions, plans, pep rallies. But for a country suffering from tinnitus after four years of a headbanger president, Biden’s quietude is welcome.” L.A. Times

Stay in touch.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re the kind of reader who’d benefit from subscribing to our other newsletters and to the Times.

As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.

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