Make no mistake – Salem is in for a rough time. How we emerge from this pandemic depends on what we all do today, and it shouldn’t take government ordering us to act.

As of Sunday, there were 19 reported cases of people in Marion County infected with COVID-19. A 72-year-old woman died Friday. In Polk County, one confirmed case has been diagnosed so far.

Don’t be fooled. It’s coming. The disease, a respiratory illness for which there is no vaccine and no cure, is erupting in the U.S. This isn’t hype. This is medical fact. Four Oregonians are dead from the disease.

If there was ever a time for the people of Salem to act together, it is now. This ought to be perceived as a patriotic challenge, not a grumbling reaction to government authority. Act to save the lives of those you love – and yourself.

Here's what you need to know. Symptoms of COVID-19 can take up to 14 days to emerge. That means you can be infected right this moment and feel absolutely fine. You may feel it’s OK to go hang with family or friends or otherwise be social. But IF you were infected, each handshake, each hug could be a form of virus tag. The potential is there – whoever you touch is now “it.”

For most people, the virus means being sick at home for a couple of weeks – after symptoms emerge. But consider the elderly, demonstrated to be the most susceptible to the disease. They can’t fend it off as ordinarily healthy people can. Neither can those who have underlying medical conditions.

At this moment, nothing is more critical than slowing the spread. This is quite simply now about keeping people alive and each of us can play the hero. The more of us in Salem who join the battle, the fewer of us will get sick and the fewer of us will die.

We need to rally around one another now, making it a point of pride to stay home, to avoid being a Typhoid Mary. Let’s do this together, to make Salem as immune as possible to the devastation. Quick action now means the sooner we get through the worst and we can go back to school, back to work, back to eating out.

This message, of course, won’t mean a thing to those who think this is some conspiracy. There remain doubters – those who think this is some cooked up scheme to control Americans. That’s a dismaying viewpoint, based on talk show hosts instead of good sense. And it is these people who will help spread the disease because of their selfish “nobody can tell me what to do” attitude.

Well, maybe you can be the one that convinces the doubters.

For the rest of us, join in a communitywide move to check this killer. And demonstrate you’re part of Save Salem:

-      Use #StayHome on your social media – and do so proudly.

-      Hang your American flag. Show you get it – and that you’re with everyone else.

-      When you go shopping for necessities, stay six feet apart. (Retailers: Mark “x” spots for people to stand as they wait – make it easy for customers)

-      Stay in touch. Staying home doesn’t mean going silent. Call. Use video tools like Facetime.

-      Be determined, be encouraging. This country has come through tough times the strongest when citizens act in the best interests of all.

Along the way, please turn to credible sources of information so you know what’s happening and what you should do. Don’t count on what someone heard from a friend of a nurse who works at the hospital. That information is usually wrong and can be dangerous. Staying up to date now is nearly as vital as the most important life-saving step every one of us should take: Stay home.

Les Zaitz is editor of Salem Reporter. Email: les@salemreporter.com

NOTE: Salem Reporter is providing free access to its content related to the coronavirus as a community service. Subscriptions starting at $5 a month are vital to continue this.