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The new coronavirus has challenged our nation on many fronts, from hospital preparedness to relearning the basics of personal hygiene. But one of the perhaps unexpected challenges has been the burden that it places upon the elderly and infirm.


While the data about infection and complication risk remain sketchy — as an entirely new disease, the coronavirus is forcing scientists to work overtime — we’ve seen that it exacts a disproportionate toll on older and sicker populations. These folks, while needing to social distance and look after themselves carefully, may face real challenges in doing so.


So the duty falls to us.


If you are younger and healthier, please call an elderly relative or acquaintance. See how they’re doing. Ask if they need any errands run. A cruel consequence of the virus is that you shouldn’t spend time with them face to face, but you should be able to visit the grocery store and leave a bag of groceries on their doorstep. You could pick up their prescriptions at the pharmacy.


You could even send them a short handwritten note.


Whatever the case, these folks are possibly isolated and lonely and scared right now. As a community, we owe it to them to step up and do what we can (while keeping ourselves safe as well, of course).


In some cases, the role we play may be educational. If that elderly relative, friend or neighbor doesn’t understand the reasons for staying in place at home, it may fall to you to educate them. The new coronavirus shouldn’t be dismissed. They should take public health orders seriously.


When news of the virus first hit, some of those among us who had the fortune of being young and healthy took the news lightly. There were snide comments about coronavirus targeting the less productive. But make no mistake: The elderly are the soul of our nation. They carry our memories and conscience, understanding gathered by decades of living.


The elderly are not dispensable. Not now, not ever. That’s why it has been heartening to see city after city, town after town choose to take the difficult steps needed to slow the virus. We are protecting ourselves, yes, but we are also protecting those who may need it even more.


Please though, do more than simply shelter. Reach out. See what else you can do. Moving through these challenges will take all of us working together.