Our Opinion: Don't panic over virus - just stay informed
Just before 6 p.m. last Friday, Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Lora de la Cruz got a call from Clackamas County Public Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present and a representative from the Oregon Health Authority.
They asked if she had a minute — and if she was sitting down. Minutes later, OHA publicly announced the news it had just delivered to de la Cruz: COVID-19 — a disease caused by the novel coronavirus — had arrived in Oregon, and the first patient worked at Lake Oswego's Forest Hills Elementary.
De la Cruz described the call as "a very solemn moment" — but it didn't make her jaw drop, as a reporter suggested it might have. Instead, she and the rest of the LOSD administrative team hunkered down and worked on a response plan until nearly midnight. Though OHS said it wasn't necessary, the district decided almost immediately to cancel school at Forest Hills through Wednesday, March 4, and further actions were detailed at a press conference the next day.
It was then that de la Cruz made what might have been the most important remark of the last week.
"The very best thing we can all do right now is remain calm and pay close attention to the advice and guidance of our public health officials," she said.
Throughout the community, some have heeded that advice better than others.
At the surface level, business seemed to be operating as usual in Lake Oswego in the days following OHA's announcement. All schools except for Forest Hills reopened Monday, City buildings and services were operational, and local stores seemed to be treating it as any other week.
But a certain level of panic was evident when you dug a bit deeper. Some stores quickly ran out of cleaning products, masks and other health-related items, and the rumor mill was in full swing on social media sites like Nextdoor and Facebook.
Some chastised the school district's response, arguing that more schools should have been closed — and for a longer period of time. Others gossiped about the identity of the patient or spread alarmist messages about government manipulation and entire families being wiped out in China (where the virus originated).
None of this is helpful.
No matter what decision the school district made about handling the virus, there would be those who decried it as the wrong one. Close more schools for a longer period of time and you face not only the prospect of overreacting (remember: OHA said it wasn't even necessary to close Forest Hills) and spreading more panic, but also lost educational time and a conundrum for parents who may not have the ability to keep their kids away from school for so long. A lengthier closure of just Forest Hills would have caused some of those same problems. And keeping Forest Hills open as usual wasn't a realistic option.
As for social media: You might think you're helping by sharing your thoughts and concerns, but if they aren't firmly based in fact and reality then you're just stirring more unrest. Disinformation leads to unrest, unrest leads to panic, panic leads to bad decisions, and the vicious cycle repeats itself with every misinformed social media post.
The patient also deserves privacy, and speculation about their identity is reckless and wrong.
It is uncomfortable, but necessary, to embrace the fact that there is much we don't know about this situation. We don't know exactly how this patient contracted the virus; technically, it hasn't even been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control that the patient has COVID-19. We don't know how many cases will ultimately pop up in Oregon, and if there will be any more in Lake Oswego. We don't know when this global outbreak will stop, and how much damage it will cause.
Fear is only natural in these situations. But what's most important is how we respond to that fear.
The City and school district are off to a good start. Social media and grocery store hoarding aside, the public has also done well to keep relatively calm.
In the face of the unknown, de la Cruz had the best advice: stay calm and get informed on the facts as they come out. We at the Review and Pamplin Media Group at large are doing our best to help with that, and we hope you'll join us as we tackle this situation together.
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