The coronavirus pandemic seemed so far away just weeks ago, but now our nation is nearly one week into a national emergency declared by President Donald Trump in response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time of this writing, there are 10,775 confirmed cases in the United States and 89 confirmed cases in Minnesota. That is a 445% increase nationally in the last week, and data suggests that the number of cases will continue to double almost every six days, which means this virus is spreading at an exponential rate.

It has become clear our nation has reached the tipping point, and the steps being taken by our federal and state governments are necessary to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Without action, our country would face a drastic increase in the number of people who get sick and the number of people who die, and we would see cases rise to a level where our hospitals and health care professionals are too paralyzed to even react.

With that in mind, what can you do to help fight the virus and slow the outbreak’s progression?

Over the last week, you’ve likely heard the term “flattening the curve.” This curve is in reference to the spread of the virus. The faster the infection curve rises, the quicker the local health care system gets overloaded beyond its capacity to treat people. As we see in Europe, and in particular Italy, the more and more new patients appear, the more likely they may be forced to go without ICU beds, and the fewer resources available to help patients in any given moment.

On the other hand, a flatter curve assumes the same number of people ultimately get infected, but over an extended period. It means a less stressed health care system, fewer hospital visits on any given day, and fewer sick people dying because of resources just not being available.

So, as individuals, how do we help flatten the curve? We achieve it through social distancing and good hygiene. One of the best ways you can help, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, is practicing social distancing, which they define as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining a distance of approximately 6 feet from others whenever possible.”

By staying home and avoiding unnecessary personal contact, every single Minnesotan practicing social distancing can help save lives. We all share an obligation to help our families, our communities, our friends, and parents in attempting to stay healthy and limit the virus’s spread. None of us are above the other, and each of us must help take on the burden we all collectively face. Now is the time to do your part. Cancel your plans. Stay home. Follow the evolving federal, state, and local guidance and help protect lives.

On a final note, think about opportunities you can take to help your community while still being safe. Helping seniors get groceries, supporting local businesses, or donating blood are a few options that come to mind. In this time of struggle, there are more than a few ways we can come together while being forced to stay apart.

Additionally, I know a lot of people across the state are struggling financially as a result of this disease. The economic impact has already been astronomical, and based on projections, this trend could continue for months. At the Senate, we are already looking for ways we can help. In a future column, I will be outlining our plans and additional resources available to people. In the meantime, be safe and take care.

Rich Draheim represents District 20 in the Minnesota Senate.

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