Some time soon, maybe tomorrow, or the day after, Judge Robert Johnston will receive the inevitable call from the Texas Department of Health, confirming Anderson County's first case of the coronavirus.
That fact will not raise the health risks significantly for most of Anderson County's 56,000 people. The global pandemic is not out of control in East Texas. Aside from certain paper products and hand sanitizer, retail stores are adequately stocked. Hospitals and clinics retain sufficient testing kits and medical supplies to meet foreseeable demands.
Nor does Anderson County need a shelter-in-place declaration – if the people take precautions now that scientists and doctors have prescribed for weeks. Those include rigorous and regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, practicing so-called social distancing of at least six feet, keeping homes clean and disinfected, and remaining in them as much as possible.
Irrespective of the facts, however, Anderson County's first case of COVID-19 will, psychologically, have at least some effect. Unwarranted fears already plague the community. Hoarders have stripped grocery store shelves of toilet paper. Gun shops are selling out of firearms and ammo, as people hunker down to defend what they have, or prepare to take what they need.
None of this makes sense or improves conditions. We will get out of this together or not at all. Exercising the collective discipline needed to suppress contagion requires cooperation and mutual respect.
Further, an even greater danger than panic looms: complacency. The writer of today's letter to the editor urges restaurants to reopen “so we can sit down and eat.” People continue to shake hands, party down, and stand pressed together in lines in grocery stores and pharmacies throughout the county.
All in all, it's amazing Anderson County had avoided, as of Monday, a single case of coronavirus. Meantime, neighboring Smith County reported 31 cases, including one death. Cherokee County had confirmed its second case; Rusk County reported three, and Nacogdoches two.
Those numbers pale in comparison to those in other parts of the country. Hot spots like New York account for most of the nation's 150,000 cases, including 2,800 deaths. Texas neared 3,000 cases Monday, and almost 40 deaths.
Even these grim, rocketing figures harbor some hope: 98 out of 100 Americans who have contracted the coronavirus have survived – some with minor symptoms. So far, COVID-19 has infected fewer than 1 in 100 Americans.
We can't keep this virus out of Anderson County, but we can minimize its toll by acting intelligently and responsibly. Following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the prudent advice of doctors like presidential advisor Anthony Fauci, we will avoid both unreasoned fear and insidious nonchalance.
This is, for most, a dark moment; but light flickers at the end of the tunnel. The more rationally we think and circumspectly we act, the sooner we will get there.
It's up to us.