Virus Outbreak Idaho

Gov. Brad Little proclaimed a state of emergency in Idaho as a proactive step to prevent the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, Friday, March 13, 2020, at his Statehouse office in Boise, Idaho. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP)

Idaho has its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

This is not cause for panic. It was to be expected. The World Health Organization recently declared the novel coronavirus to be a pandemic, and Idaho was one of only a handful of states without a confirmed case.

Most people are not terribly affected by the virus, and for them, it often resembles a cold or flu of varying severity.

But for some in our community, it will be serious. So the community needs to respond seriously.

This will be a difficult time, but how difficult depends on how we respond. One of the best things we can do is to ensure the virus spreads slowly so that not too many people are affected at any one time, ensuring that health care providers aren’t overwhelmed.

Many institutions in our community are already providing an excellent example for us to follow. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has canceled large public gatherings, which will limit the number of places in which COVID can spread. Schools are actively planning their response.

But there have also been concerning behaviors by some in the community. Masks needed by health care workers or by people who are infected are instead being hoarded by healthy people at low risk, along with hand sanitizer and, bizarrely, toilet paper.

This isn’t a time for looking after “me and mine.” This is a time for looking after our neighbors, particularly those at greatest risk — those who are already sick or frail, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. If we can orient our actions toward protecting them, even when that requires a degree of self-sacrifice, all of us will be better off.

Many of the problems presented by the coronavirus take the form of the old prisoner’s dilemma: Two men are arrested by the police. They are interrogated separately. If neither turns on the other, they’ll each get only a light punishment. If only one turns on the other, he will go free, but the other will get a very harsh punishment. If they both turn on one another, they both get a harsh sentence.

These are hard problems because the outcome will be best for everyone if everyone behaves selflessly, but each person can do a little better by behaving selfishly.

So this is a test of our moral character.

This is true for individuals.

You shouldn’t just wash your hands regularly and cover your coughs to prevent yourself from getting sick. You should do it to protect your neighbors.

The same is true of employers.

Employers have an obligation to ensure that their employees can self-quarantine if necessary without major financial hardship. They should develop plans for sick employees to work from home when that’s possible. When it isn’t possible, they should be prepared to extend paid sick leave. This isn’t just in the community’s interest but their own. Because if a sick employee has no other option than to go to work, a much larger portion of their workforce is at risk of getting sick. As the CDC recommends, employers should also not require a doctor’s note for sick leave.

If employers broadly extend paid sick leave to their employees, each will take a small hit to their bottom line. But if most employers don’t do it, that will mean lots of people without pay, which will mean those same employers face a major fall-off in customer demand. So responsible employers will have to behave in the community’s interest if they want to ensure their own individual interests, and trust that others will do the same.

The same is true for each family.

It is important to have a little extra at home so that if you do have to self-quarantine to avoid spreading the virus, you won’t have to break the quarantine prematurely to go to the store and risk spreading the virus to others.

If you hoard great amounts of food and sanitary supplies, you deprive your neighbors of the ability to do their own stocking up, and you’re making the problem worse. Because if you stock up to the degree that your neighbors can’t, they’ll have to go to the store before they should, and that will help COVID-19 spread more quickly.

You should follow the advice the CDC and public health experts have been giving all along: At your regular trips to the store, pick up a little extra, and build up some reserves slowly without contributing to shortages.

The same is true for this newspaper.

We take seriously the need for prompt dissemination of reliable information as the coronavirus impacts our region. We are working hard to gather and verify the information you need to know about COVID, along with the many other aspects of life that will go on as usual during this time.

A good rule is to ignore everything you see about COVID on social media. There are armchair experts purporting to show that this isn’t any more serious than the seasonal flu, which is ridiculous. There are others claiming this is some sort of apocalypse, which is equally laughable.

We at the Post Register will do our part. We are working to provide reliable information without hype. We are in regular communication with the Department of Health and Welfare as well as local health care providers, and we will work to disseminate the verified information you need to keep your community as healthy as possible.

The Post Register’s editorial board consists of Publisher Travis Quast, Managing Editor Monte LaOrange and editorial writer Bryan Clark. Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.