"Overreacting" is a word I've been hearing a lot this week. On Facebook, in comments and conversations..."it's ridiculous." "It's stupid." "It's a massive overreaction." "It's like closing the schools because one snowflake falls." These kinds of opinions resounded especially loudly after Superintendant Landers closed the Winchendon Public Schools for two days after a staff member disclosed that they might have been exposed to COVID-19. It turns out to have been a false alarm and schools are scheduled to re-open on Monday...as of right now, at least.

The list of schools, colleges, events, and institutions, such as public libraries, which are cancelling or closing, or enforcing tight restrictions on people assembling in groups larger than half a dozen, is increasing faster than cases of the virus itself. But is this really a "panic," or "overreacting?"

I'd say in all fairness that these closures are not caused by anyone "panicking" at all. There is a broad area of gray common sense between "panic" and "blithe denial." Lockdowns and quarantines--preventing people from randomly mingling, in other words--are the best way to stop a highly contagious illness from spreading. It's simple science. And after all, we don't want COVID-19 to spread everywhere, to everyone...do we? Seriously? Who really wants to take the Nietszche approach to health care: "hey, I'll just catch it and I'll be immune...if I'm not dead." No, thanks.

But we're not taking all these precautions for people as healthy as I am. We're taking them for the very vulnerable people for whom COVID-19 is a death sentence. The very elderly; people with compromised immune systems, like your friend or family member on chemotherapy; people with asthma or respiratory conditions like COPD; people with immune disorders; and many others. The 95 percent of us who would endure a couple of weeks of misery and recover have an obligation and a responsibility to take every effort we can NOT to get sick, to protect those around us who, unlike us, can't say the odds are in their favor.

I think too many people have wallowed in lurid post-plague-pocalypse movies and books, and think there's no reason to worry until we're tripping over bodies in the streets. Well, even COVID-19 isn't going to do that. The planet isn't going to be depopulated. But this week has shown us another risk: how easily our economic system and social networks are disrupted, and how far-reaching and long-lasting the effects might be.

We're all interconnected, in the final analysis. What happens to the economy in other countries affects our jobs, our pensions and IRAs, our property values. This global network is less like a web than a game of Jenga. Pull out one small piece and the whole edifice could topple.

Containing COVID-19 is a preventive measure, not only to keep people from getting sick, but to keep our whole society in one piece and functioning. That's not "overreacting." That's just being smart enough and mature enough to do what has to be done, for the sake of our children and all the rest of us.

Inanna Arthen