The worry and unease about COVID-19 feels so inescapable that Americans can easily miss the sheer beauty of what is unfolding across the country right now. Yes, we are approaching errands that were routine just a week ago—to the hardware store or the grocery store—with the same wariness that we might bring to an Arctic exploration. Yet if we take a step back from the panic-buying of toilet paper, the response to COVID-19 should stand as one of the most beautiful moments in our country’s long history—a moment of shared, galvanizing national spirit that has existed in perhaps only in a handful of epochal years before, like 1776, 1861, 1933, and 1941, and, in modern times, after 9/11.
We are witnessing people everywhere, acting mostly independently but all together, shutting our country down—a move that ensures millions will face a massive, incalculable economic hit—to give the weakest among us a better chance against the novel coronavirus. We are each sacrificing our daily routines—our gyms and coffee shops and offices—to keep health-care professionals from becoming overwhelmed..
“Flattening the curve,” a phrase few of us had heard of a month ago, has arrived as an urgent national mantra akin to Rosie the Riveter’s “We can do it.” This call to arms reminds us how those on the front lines—the vulnerable (and equally scared) doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics, and other health-care professionals—benefit when all of us do our own little bit, and, in turn, how helping those first responders gives the inevitable patients, whoever they may end up being, the best chance of survival.