Government offices at all levels have imposed restrictions on public activities to fight the coronavirus. Dining halls, schools, gyms and bars have been ordered closed. Stores have shortened their hours. Even churches have canceled services.
The size of public gatherings has been limited, and Cameron County has even imposed a nighttime curfew. President Trump on Friday announced that our international bridges were closed to “nonessential travel,” and illegal border crossers will be deported immediately rather than detained.
These restrictions couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Rio Grande Valley, where many businesses depend on revenue from Spring Break and Semana Santa. It is hoped, however, that these drastic measures will keep the deadly coronavirus, specifically COVID-19, from taking a foothold in the country, and specifically in the Valley, where at least one case already has been confirmed, in Cameron County.
“The whole point of this is to have two, three, maybe four weeks of sacrifice, … rather than two, three or four months of sacrifice,” Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said Thursday in announcing the county restrictions.
Such requests might remind some people of the measures that have been requested when our nation has been at war — and in a sense we are, against a deadly disease that is so new that researchers are still gathering the information that’s needed to determine treatments and vaccines. Without such treatment, the measures are meant to keep people at safe distances from each other so that anyone who might be infected doesn’t transmit the virus to others.
Some people, including the president himself in the early stages of the global outbreak, have downplayed the threat, noting that the common flu kills more people.
Such talk is dangerously misleading, however.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that from Oct. 1, 2019 to March 14 of this year, the flu has killed between 23,000 and 59,000 people in the United States.
Those deaths, however, are based on total flu cases that number from 38 million to 54 million. Roughly 260,000 coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide, with more than 10,500 deaths.
Only 90,000 people have fully recovered. At current mortality rates, a coronavirus outbreak on par with the flu would have killed 1.5 million to 2.2 million Americans since October.
That is why officials are taking the threat so seriously, and why it is important for all residents to do their best to respect them.
It might be fair to question the need for a curfew, and at press time only Cameron County had imposed it.
With most public venues closed, most people will stay home anyway, but many work shifts begin and end during the curfew hours. We hope third-shift, bakery and restaurant workers aren’t stopped unnecessarily on their way to and from work, and have to justify their travels to law enforcement or judicial officials.
Erring on the side of safety, however, is understandable, and people should respect officials’ requests and the concerns behind them. We hope, as they do, that these measures will shorten the crisis, and help our lives return to normal sooner.