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Our lives interrupted

This isn't what it was supposed to be like.

We've all seen the Hollywood version of the great pandemic. Chaos. Ambulances, sirens blaring, constantly screaming by our homes, transporting the afflicted. A car crashes, its driver overcome in mid-drive by the deadly virus. Looting, gangs, armed survivalists protecting their encampments.

What is making this so hard to process is that much remains deceivingly ordinary. Some people have been directly touched by COVID-19, but not most of us. Yes, there are the empty shelves in the markets, the run on toilet paper, and the constant media updates.

But it is all largely in reaction to the virus threat, not directly caused by it. Our schools, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, malls, sports, even our places of worship have been closed down not because of staggeringly high numbers of sick people, but in an effort to prevent the numbers of the stricken from growing exponentially, as the infectious disease experts warn us would happen if we continued life as normal.

It is quite the leap of scientific faith folks are being asked to make. And it is hard. The small business owner, who through long hours of work and the willingness to take risks found modest success, suddenly doesn't have the revenue coming in to pay her workers or the bills. Those workers find themselves out of jobs.

Families are under stress, with the kids home and schools closed indefinitely. Kitchen tables and spare rooms have turned into makeshift home offices. Parents fight with teens intent on hanging out with friends. Incomes have been interrupted, while 401-k retirement savings dive with the markets.

So much pressure, so much uncertainty. And so much of the economy shut down.

As of Friday, the number of confirmed cases in Connecticut was zooming toward 200 and there had been four virus-related deaths, all elderly. The numbers are hardly overwhelming when measured against the death and disease of our normal, mortal existence.

But, we are told, the number of infected people out there is much higher than the confirmed cases, perhaps by many magnitude. How much higher, even the experts don't know because the availability of testing has so far fallen far below the need. We are asked to prepare for the worse, to take these drastic steps, because if we don't the growing number of COVID-19 cases could explode, overwhelming the ability of our hospitals to handle it.

How long will we have to hunker down? When can the businesses reopen? What exactly will the promised relief from the government look like? And will it be enough? There are no answers. None of us has experienced anything like this.

Given all the uncertainty, the level of public acceptance has been impressive. People have largely done what they have been asked.

As days turn into weeks — and maybe months — our collective patience will be sorely tested. Compliance so far has been largely voluntary. If it must be enforced, what happens then? I hope we don't find out.

On the front lines are our doctors and nurses, the EMTs and physician assistants, and all the health care professionals. Best case we do what we have to, we see this through, the numbers never get as big as feared, and it winds down sooner than later, the health professionals able to handle the load.

The worst case could be very bad.

The nation should have been far better prepared. Ready with the test kits. Ready with adequate personal safety equipment. Ready with a plan, not making it all up on the fly. In time, the nation must examine why we weren't ready.

It's a major fail and we're collectively paying a terrible price.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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