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Opinion | America Can Beat the Coronavirus

Thank you, Americans.

That hasn’t been said nearly enough over these awful last few months.

In this frightening and uncertain time, we’ve had to absorb many new and disconcerting concepts — from social distancing to flattening the curve to community transmission to case-fatality rates. We’ve been reminded repeatedly that we aren’t doing enough to stem the spread of the coronavirus, that we are a “failed state,” unable to manage the greatest existential threat in our lifetimes. The country that calls itself exceptional has long lines at food banks, strained public health systems and millions of its own citizens wondering how they’re going to keep the lights on and their families fed.

There is no question that misinformation, mismanagement and incompetence from national, state and local leaders have cost many lives. But focusing only on failure obscures much of the good work that the vast majority of Americans have done, and are doing, to look after one another.

If we are going to get through this global crisis, we need to hear more than just what we’re doing wrong, or should be doing better. We need to hear, if only now and then, what we are doing right. And as individuals working to help the larger community, we have been doing a lot right.

This weekend, as we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country, it’s worth pausing to acknowledge the smaller but essential patriotic sacrifices we are all making today, for one another.

Consider that over the first six weeks of the crisis, nearly 44 percent of U.S. residents — roughly 144 million people — mostly stayed home, enduring inconvenience and isolation for the health and safety of not only family members, friends and neighbors, but of people they’ve never met.

Millions of Americans now routinely wear masks when we go outdoors, a group effort that was inconceivable just weeks ago. Today, nearly two-thirds of Americans agree that masking is a matter of public health. (The science, while still evolving, backs that up.)

We keep our physical distance from one another wherever possible, even when it is awkward and tiresome and runs against our most primal instincts as social mammals. In the absence of any concerts, sporting events or other organized group entertainment, we’ve come up with creative ways to entertain ourselves and each other. The creative flourishing of people forced to carry on online from the intimacy of their own homes is something to behold.

Some Americans who didn’t need their stimulus payments donated their stimulus checks to those in greater need.

This is love of country at its best, generous and communal. And it’s all the more important to keep that spirit alive as we enter the warmer months and are tempted to forget all that we have learned in this dark and deadly spring. That’s where a little encouragement from our leaders would come in handy. It could sound something like this:

You’re doing great, my fellow Americans. What you have been asked to do is not easy, but you’re doing it. And you’ve already made a big difference. People are alive today who might otherwise not be, thanks to the sacrifices you have made and are continuing to make.

Thanks to you, the situation is improving in many of the most hard-hit places, from New York to New Jersey to Louisiana. Yes, we could have limited the damage much further had lockdowns and social distancing begun sooner, but our actions have still made an enormous difference. Without stay-at-home orders and widespread social distancing, one economist has estimated, our 1.6 million confirmed cases of coronavirus would be closer to 35 million.

Thanks to you, cities and towns around the country are starting the slow process of safely reopening for business. The road to normalcy will be long and difficult, and it is one we’ll travel together.

Of course, there are millions of people who never had the luxury to stay home or socially distance: the front-line workers — from doctors and nurses to grocery-store employees and mail carriers — who have kept everyone else cared for and fed throughout this pandemic. They deserve the nation’s enduring gratitude. They also deserve higher pay, better working conditions, stronger safety measures and, in many cases, all of the above.

Words of encouragement matter immensely. There’s a reason marathon routes are lined with cheering crowds from start to finish. Managing the coronavirus is going to be a long slog, and we need regular reminders that we’re getting somewhere.

So much remains unknown about this terrible disease: why it kills some and barely grazes others; why it hits different countries differently; how it will develop over the coming months and years. What is known is that there will be more spikes of infections, that many more people will get sick and die, and that we will be constantly working to keep people healthy while also keeping the economy running.

We also know that our own decisions, as individuals, will be vital in helping to protect our neighbors. Until there is a vaccine, which could be years from now, the simple acts of wearing a mask and practicing social distancing may be the most reliable ways to stem the spread of the disease and save more lives.

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