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Watch out for others as we get back to business

Have you noticed the increase in activity?

It’s only just begun, but it seems people are eager to embrace the transition of getting back to business as usual.

In March, Gov. Mike DeWine, working in conjunction with state health department Director Dr. Amy Acton, closed schools and businesses across the Buckeye State and issued a stay-at-home order in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Although the illness causes only mild symptoms for most people, it has had deadly consequences in many conditions and locations around the globe. It spreads quickly, with many carriers not knowing that they have the disease.

Those orders were due to expire Friday. At that time, DeWIne and Acton issued modified orders that extend through May 29. The new directives allowed elective medical procedures to resume Friday, along with appointments with other health care providers such as dentists. They also set a timeline for manufacturing, distribution and construction businesses to begin getting back to work in the coming week and for retail establishments to follow.

All through the month of April, I worked remotely from home, as did many of my co-workers. The demands of reporting the news, though, required us to go out and about from time to time. Over the past month, each time I went out into communities on the western end of Belmont County, I was struck by how quiet they seemed. I encountered very little traffic. During events such as the Easter Bunny’s arrival in those communities, family groups stayed on their own, far apart from others who were watching from their porches or vehicles.

Those conditions began to change on Friday, when I went to Bethesda to report on the delivery of a new fire engine. I noticed a steady stream of traffic on Belmont-Bethesda Road and in downtown Bethesda. A couple dozen people turned out to see the truck. And after I got home, I continued to notice lots of cars and trucks passing through Belmont.

At one point, traffic on Ohio 147 was so heavy that I wondered if a funeral procession or other type of gathering was passing through.

That same roadway remained fairly busy on Saturday, with cars and trucks passing by frequently. And people were outside everywhere, mainly mowing their lawns or performing other yard work.

Sure, the fact that it finally stopped raining for a few hours probably prompted many people to spend time outdoors Saturday. The discomfort of the stay-at-home order was amplified by the fact that cool, wet weather patterns made it difficult to spend any time at all outside the confines of our living rooms.

All of that makes a lot of sense. After all, we all have things we want to do or accomplish. Whether we are striving to meet career or educational goals, working on home improvements or looking to meet that special someone, we all have reasons to want to move freely about the world.

I am concerned, however, that our eagerness will lead to carelessness — and that could lead to tragic consequences.

Of course we will be taking some risks as we begin to mingle together again. That is inevitable. There is no way for any of us to know if that friend we bumped into in the parking lot or that clerk who rang up our purchases has contracted the virus that causes COVID-19. In fact, those people probably won’t know themselves.

But we can’t remain in isolation forever. That is why it is important that we take a measured approach to returning to “normal.”

It is not hard to follow the recommendations of health care experts and government leaders when it comes to combating the coronavirus. The steps are simple:

Keep your distance — at least 6 feet — from others.

Wash your hands frequently.

Wear a cloth mask or face covering in public.

Use hand sanitizer often when handwashing is not an option.

Clean and sanitize surfaces frequently, especially “high-touch” areas such as door handles, shared counter or table spaces, etc.

Stay home when possible and limit time spent running necessary errands.

I am worried because, already, I see people ignoring — or forgetting about — these recommendations. I have witnessed small groups of people who do not live together gathering together with only inches between them as they chat. I have noticed that many people are not wearing masks when gathering with others or when shopping, going to the post office and so on.

I have seen a couple of people shaking hands. I have not seen anyone other than my immediate family using hand sanitizer after touching door handles and other objects in high-traffic public spaces.

Although face coverings are mandated for many Ohio workers as they return to their jobs, they are not required for most customers or people doing business in public. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be wearing them.

I am not under the illusion that a bandana will protect from any exposure to the virus. I do believe, however, that a face covering can help me to protect others if I do happen to be exposed. I consider wearing a mask to be a courtesy to others,rather than a step that will provide real medical protection for myself. So, I intend to wear a face covering in public until health recommendations for Ohio change.

I hope many others will do the same. It seems to me that the best way to bring an end to the stay-at-home orders that so many people strongly dislike is to abide by the guidelines that aim to halt the spread of the illness. The sooner we reduce the spread of the virus, the sooner we can get back to our normal lives.

We cannot cower in fear, hiding indoors from this invisible killer forever. We can, however, each do our part to reduce its prevalence and slow its spread. We can have concern, compassion and consideration for others — our elderly parents and grandparents, or people who are vulnerable due to heart disease, diabetes or cancer treatments, for example. We can go out of our way just a bit and actually go a long way toward protecting those loved ones and everyone else around us.

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