Here is the good news: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the nation has been in decline the past several days. In New York City, once the raging bonfire of this disease, the numbers have dropped over the past month as they are now falling in a number of states.

Here at home in West Virginia, the percentage of positive test results continues to slide – now below 2 percent – indicating the lack of prevalence of the highly contagious disease in and around these mountains.

It would appear as though it is relatively safe to be out and about – or at least that is how the latest statistics will be parsed and interpreted by those eager to more fully engage socially and needing to get back to work to post profits and draw a paycheck.

Appearances can be deceiving.

We fully understand and share in the thinking that we need to open our state’s economy, but we also appreciate the necessity of doing it with a concern for safety all around. These are, after all, not mutually exclusive goals. But we must continue to follow CDC guidelines – even watered down as they have been at the request of the White House if the economy is ever going to regain its footing. At the very elemental level that means, when out in public, practice social distancing and wear a cloth mask over your mouth and nose.

We can do this. In fact, we must.

The statistic that we have been eyeballing is this: percentage of population tested.

Currently, in order to be approved for testing, a person needs to be showing criteria of having caught the disease – a cough, a fever, shortness of breath, muscle pain and sore throat. Also considered are a history of travel and possible exposure.

It is all scientific, as well it should be.

But here’s the trouble with all of that: People can be asymptomatic and not be aware they are spreading the disease.

And thus, we are checking the percentage of the state’s population – the nation’s, too – that has been tested. As of Saturday evening, 4.13 percent of all West Virginians – or one in every 25 people – have been tested. Nationally, it’s 3.24 percent or about one in every 33 people.

Our math says that’s a whole lot of uncertainty about who is carrying.

Here we are, at a precarious time in the life of this pandemic, trying to decide if it is safe to go out. We are both encouraged with hopeful signs that flicker at the end of a long and dark tunnel, yet concerned about the guy in that narrow grocery store aisle who seems to be suffering from a seasonal allergy.

After putting up embarrassing stats that only diminish our nation as a global leader in this fight – nearly 90,000 deaths, now – our nation cannot so easily toss aside those measures that held the virus at bay. We cannot risk resurgence. And yet here we are, with more than two-thirds of states – including West Virginia – significantly relaxing restrictions that many scientists believe can only lead to a reversal of our recent good fortune – if you can even call it that.

We are emphasizing again that it is critical to maintain 6 feet of social distancing that interrupts transmission of the virus. And, just as the CDC advises, anyone who is headed out into the real world needs to wear a mask.

The CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the U.S., and what we know from recent studies is that a significant portion of individuals who have contracted the disease are asymptomatic – they lack symptoms – and even those who eventually develop symptoms – presymptomatic – can transmit the virus to others. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity – speaking, coughing or sneezing – even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.

That mask will keep you from spreading what you may not have known you had. And it goes a long way in protecting our chain of health care providers, too – the EMS crews, cops and firefighters, nurses and doctors who may have to intubate a patient in a desperate measure to save a life.

So, please, continue to wash your hands often, keep your distance and wear a mask – if not for yourself, then for your best buddy – and the economy.

The state is popping the top of its economy, but it is up to each of us to make certain we do not have to go back into isolation again.

If that happens, this fragile economy of ours may be permanently damaged.

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