To comply with "social distancing" recommendations, H.E.B. in Austin limited the number of customers in its stores. 

It's a safe bet Anderson County will report its first case of COVID-19 in the coming days. Before that happens, residents should sort out the facts from fiction and fear.

Reasonable precautions against this pandemic are necessary and good; unwarranted panic is neither. It will, among other things, overburden the health care system with people who don't need it, and deprive others who do.

With no local case of coronavirus reported, people already are overreacting.

On Friday, fearing mass quarantines, scarcity, and factory closings, Walmart shoppers stripped the shelves of toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer. By hoarding and stockpiling, they deprived others of the daily supplies they need to stay healthy.

Last week, local high school sports, a center of community life, were suspended. On Friday, Palestine's annual Dogwood Trails Festival, one of the city's biggest draws and money-makers, was rescheduled. A popular local shindig, the Dogwood Jamboree, also was canceled, as was a Palestine High School Choir trip to New York.

“Social distancing” has become the watchword. People are refusing to shake hands, though Palestine still has no confirmed sitings of elbow bumping. A few churches are conducting Sunday services online.

Is all this fuss necessary? The definitive answer will come only with time. Meantime, erring on the side of caution when facing a novel threat is understandable, even prudent.

Misinformation and hype are another matter. COVID-19 may be less of a public health hazard than seasonal flu. The greatest danger most Americans face from it is stress and price gouging. Worry weakens immune systems, making people more vulnerable to all viral infections.

For healthy people, masks are unnecessary, except for direct caregivers of those with COVID-19, the World Health Organization asserts. Yet prices on disposable masks jumped from $125 to $220 a pack, as sellers exploited pandemic panic.

COVID-19 will subside but it won't disappear. Sooner or later, nearly everyone will get it; for most, it will mean little more than mild discomfort.

Roughly 80 percent of those contracting COVID-19 have no major symptoms, though they can infect others. Yes, it is potentially fatal to a tiny share of people with weakened immune systems, including the elderly. But so is seasonal flu.

With at least 50 cases of COVID-19 in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a public health disaster Friday. The declaration was less a medical judgment, however, than a prudent political move to ensure Texas can access, if needed, federal assistance to secure medical supplies.

The good news is people are taking preventative steps. They are washing their hands, covering their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, wiping down surfaces, and carrying hand sanitizer. Those precautions and others, if continued, will protect them against not only COVID-19 but also seasonal flu.

After Anderson County reports its first confirmed case of COVID-19, you should continue to take precautions recommended by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Then take a deep breath and slowly exhale. You're gonna be fine.

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