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It did not have to be this way.

I’m talking about two very painful phenomena of our times: First, the coronavirus pandemic, which spawns the disease known as COVID-19 and has already led to 126,000-plus American deaths. Second, the resultant economic devastation — 40,000 jobs lost — and need for more than $3.5 trillion in bailout money—added to our national debt.

By and large it feels like many Americans have succumbed to a spirit of fatalism, murmuring in effect, “Aw geez, just knew something bad was going to hit us. We were overdue for this. Just have to learn to live with it.”

Or else a spirit of denial: “Man, this is just another flu. Media has overblown this so-called crisis. Idea of wearing a mask everywhere just makes me crazy — not going to do it. We never should have shut down our economy over this thing. Besides, it’s all a plot to take down President Trump.”

Fortunately there is a realistic centrist position on the virus. Pay attention to the science. Trust the state health departments. Match up to the precautions that are recommended. I’m in that group, and I wish there were more of us.

Asian societies, on the whole, have outperformed North America, South America and Europe. By a lot. They had the same novel coronavirus we were hit with, in countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. And did leagues better. Here are some numbers from late June:

Singapore 29,000 cases, 22 deaths. Population: 5.6 million.

Taiwan: 446 cases, 7 deaths. Population: 23.6 million.

South Korea: 12 ,600-plus.cases, 281 deaths. Population: 51.7 million.

Japan: 18,000-plus cases, 955 deaths Population: 123.7 million.

Compare those countries to the U.K., France, Italy and the United States.

U.K.: 400,000-plus cases, 44,000-plus deaths. Population: 56 million.

France: 161,000 cases, 30,000-plus deaths. Population: 67 million.

Italy 242,000 cases, 35,000-plus deaths. Population: 60.3 million.

United States: 2.5 million-plus cases, 126,000-plus deaths. Population: 329.6 million.

What did the Asian societies do differently?

Unlike the four western nations cited, the Asian countries adopted a culture of universal wearing of masks or other face coverings, respecting social distancing in public places, testing and quarantining. They also did not hesitate to do a “hard shutdown” of their economies, mostly for a six-week (or so) period.

Perhaps because they were geographically closer to China, where the virus originated in the city of Wuhan, they took the highly dangerous rate of infection more seriously . They also saw how terribly their societies would suffer if strict precautionary measures were not implemented and were not observed universally.

Hardly anybody cried “Scam!” or lambasted the government for ordering tough measures, including shutting down bars, restaurants, stores and both indoor and outdoor gatherings. As a whole, the people in each Asian country bent to the task of vanquishing the virus. And they succeeded.

The numbers cited above tell the story. Currently, in our country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, and the University of Washington Medical Center, who all monitor the virus’ rise and fall in our 50 states, are seeing coronavirus surges in most of the country. For our part, let’s pay attention to the scientists. And prepare, with heart and soul, to follow their guidelines. To the letter.

John Patrick Grace formerly covered health care for The Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record. He is now a book editor based in Huntington and also teaches the Life Writing Class.

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