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Old Salem interpreter Bill Cook uses Chlorox wipes to clean the pews at the historic St. Philips Church on Thursday.

The threat of coronavirus still seems surreal and distant. Not many of us know anyone personally who has been affected by it.

But that’s likely to change, soon, as the virus begins to spread.

As of Friday, we knew of four people in Forsyth County who have been exposed to the virus: A couple who contracted it after going on a cruise and two city employees who had been exposed to the virus, but as far as we know, have not contracted it. Nevertheless, all are properly isolating themselves. This makes a total of 17 confirmed cases in the state.

“Our situation in Winston-Salem is rapidly evolving,” Mayor Allen Joines said Thursday. “It is imperative that every citizen immediately begin practicing those measures that can slow the spread of the disease.”

By now, we’re all familiar with the preventative steps: wash your hands frequently and thoroughly; try to avoid touching your face; avoid large gatherings; and maintain social distancing: Handshakes and hugs are off the table, to be replaced by bows and Vulcan salutes.

Some are at more risk than others: People over 60 and those with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems. But it’s important to remember, as former Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday, “The coronavirus does not have political affiliation; it will affect Republicans, Democrats and independents alike; it will not discriminate based on national origin, race, gender or ZIP code. It will touch people in positions of power as well as the most vulnerable in our society.”

Indeed, some in positions of power who earlier scoffed have now been affected personally.

So many events have been canceled — including those sponsored by government, educational, church and arts and entertainment groups — that it would be wise for would-be attendees to check before attending anything. Among them, sadly, the 2020 RiverRun International Film Festival, one of our city’s premier annual events, has been cancelled. We’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

Government and corporate leaders, including the Journal’s owner, Lee Enterprises, have stepped forward with guidance that includes allowing employees to work from home when possible.

All of these steps, though disruptive, are necessary and may actually help contain the severity of the coronavirus.

Yet one problem looms large: Despite government assurances, Americans are having too much difficulty getting tested. This is essential to containing infections. Last week, Sen. Thom Tillis, Rep. Richard Hudson and Rep. David Price wrote to Vice President Mike Pence to ask for more test kits for North Carolina. They should press on until they succeed.

In days to come, we’ll need to analyze why the United States has fallen so far behind the rest of the industrialized world — and take corrective steps.

Throughout the United States, almost 1,800 cases have currently been identified and at least 41 people have died. Around the world, more than 132,000 cases have been reported and more than 4,600 have died. In other parts of the world, hospitals are full and overflowing. But here in Winston-Salem, time is on our side. Each of us can, now, take steps that will increase the likelihood of safety.

This virus will be a test of our communities; of our resolve, of our patience in the face of adversity, of our compassion and perhaps, though it may not seem so right now, of our humor. For the healthy among us, while taking necessary precautions, there will be opportunities to practice kindness. People at risk could use friends to run errands while they stay safe at home.

Let’s all step up. Let’s draw on the resources we have and the resources we share to get through this.

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