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Kindness is contagious

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is highly contagious, but so, too, are kindness and love. Over the next several months, people around the world must do what they can to keep this highly lethal disease from spreading, but, in this endeavor, especially as we withdraw from social contact with others, we hope that people can remember to be thoughtful, generous and giving. Each simple act of kindness inspires a next one.

The first thing we can do to be kind to others is follow the disease guidelines laid out by national, state and local officials. Here, in Wisconsin, we should try and avoid crowds of over 10 people. We should wash our hands. If we have symptoms of coronavirus--a high fever and dry cough--we should contact our doctor or local hospital immediately. We should do this for our own health, but also to protect others. We are in this pandemic together.

There is more we can do to help others. It is hard to predict the coming economic fallout from coronavirus, but, if the New York Stock Exchange’s dramatic drop in recent weeks is any indication, it looks like the United States might fall into a recession or, possibly, worse. Already people have been asked not to come to work. Bars and restaurants have been closed by the governor. This means that workers, including those who lack savings to ride out the pandemic, will have trouble paying the rent and buying food. This would be a good time, then, to donate generously to a local food pantry. Possibly we might be able to spare some of those rolls of toilet paper we picked up in last weekend’s shelfemptying shopping blitz. We can help people vote. Election officials are trying to hold the April 7 election without bringing large and, in this environment, dangerous crowds to the polls. They are encouraging voters to cast absentee ballots. While the deadline to register outside of a polling place lapsed on March 18, registered people can pick-up and cast absentee ballots through April 2. We can help others obtain absentee ballots and make sure they are cast in accordance with election law. This way, we can support our democracy and minimize spread of coronavirus at polling locations. That’s a two-fer act of kindness.

We can shop for other people. We all need food and essential supplies and, knowing this, Gov. Evers kept open grocery stores and pharmacies during the pandemic. Yet the fewer people at these places, the better. If you are already making a trip to the store for supplies, offer to pick up a few items for a relative or a neighbor. That saves this person from a possible brush up against someone with the coronavirus. Perhaps, in turn, the person can return the favor the next time he or she makes a trip to the store.

You can be a friend. The coronavirus epidemic is mysterious, terrifying. We don’t know often what to do to stay safe. This unknowing is stressful, especially when we need to make decisions not just for ourselves, but also for family and friends. Talk to people and listen. Let them vent their frustrations, their anger. Let them share their fear. Just listen. Simple human communication can help people cope with difficult situations. All of these exchanges can be over the telephone or the internet. You can touch people without actually touching them.

And, finally, you can stay abreast of the news. The logarithmic spread of coronavirus across the United States is frightening (5,800 as of Tuesday), but the good news is that over 99 percent of Americans say in recent polling that they have heard of the disease. This means that Americans know what is going on and, if given the right information, we have a real possibility of flattening the growth curve of the disease and, in turn, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of lives. We are not saying people should obsess over coronavirus reporting. We are only saying keep vigilant by knowing what’s going on.

At some point, the coronavirus pandemic will be over, but we are not there yet. The pandemic and its body blow to the economy has only begun. We will now retreat to our homes as fortresses against the disease. But let not our hearts become fortresses. Let’s stay connected to one another and, when we can, practice a contagious brand of kindness.