Coronavirus Prompts Unity, Creativity



All around the world, individuals, groups and institutions have mobilized to respond to the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which has been designated a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. After a fumbling initial U.S. response of finger-pointing and blame, officials have taken positive steps designed to contain the spread of the virus and make sure those who need testing and other help can get it.

Last week, President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency, freeing up billions of dollars in relief for individual and families who have been affected. With his backing, Congress has moved quickly – though not quickly enough for many — on a massive spending package with bipartisan support to ease the burdens of individuals and industries affected by widespread shutdowns.

In our bi-state area, action from state capitals has been mixed. With scant leadership from Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri, local leaders have stepped in to keep people young and old at home and impede the spread of the virus. Gov. J.B. Pritzker was much more decisive, closing schools, restaurants, bars and other public facilities and taking further steps to limit opportunities for Illinois residents to become ill.

And our local Jewish congregations have stepped up to make sure members can get the services and the spiritual sustenance they need without putting themselves in harm’s way. From live streaming of Shabbat services and adult learning classes to moving many meetings and even exercise classes online instead of in person, local institutions and congregations are engaging in creative ways to continue serving their members while keeping them physically safe.

(You can read a comprehensive list of local changes on page 19.)

Nationally, after a low-key Oval Office speech last week, Trump has been more visible in the fight, appearing at daily White House briefings and downplaying his criticism of Democrats, if not refraining from it altogether. He even had some nice words for the news media. Ideally, such comity in the face of a common foe could help roll back the divisive acrimony that has poisoned public discourse in recent months.

Internationally, the threat posed by the virus has become a factor in the longstanding stalemate between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz. Netanyahu, trying to form a government after the nation’s third election in recent months, took advantage of the climate created by the virus and called for an emergency coalition with Gantz, in an effort to “fight to save tens of thousands of citizens.”

But despite that plea, Gantz received the endorsement of minority parties, giving him a slim majority in the Knesset and the opportunity to form a government. The move came hours after emergency restrictions had been imposed on Israeli courts because of the coronavirus. That order means that Netanyahu’s trial on corruption charges, which had been set to start this week, will be delayed until at least late May.

How and when the coronavirus emergency here and in the rest of the world will be resolved is anyone’s guess. But history shows that Americans are up to the challenge.

From the national unity shown after the 9/11 attacks, to the triumphant fight in the 1950s against the scourge of polio, to the defeat of Germany, Japan and Italy in World War II, to countless other times of crisis when all-out efforts were needed, the United States has demonstrated the right stuff needed for success.

During World War II, the Dick Robertson Orchestra released a song just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor titled “We Did It Before, And We Can Do It Again.” Now, such single-minded focus is needed to battle the coronavirus. The urgent steps everyone is taking, with a growing sense of unity, can combat this threat. We did it before. Let’s do it again.