Keep Calm! It’s time for Pine Belt residents to rely on one another – from a safe distance


Pine Belt residents are no strangers to natural tragedies. Less than a decade after Hurricane Katrina brought life as we know it to a standstill,  twin tornadoes in 2013 and 2017 tested our moxie once again as they tore a path of destruction across Forrest and Lamar counties and forever changed the physical landscape of our region.

Each time, there was no panic, but instead, we responded with a calm, prepared response necessary to overcome those obstacles and return to normal life as soon as possible.

That same attitude will serve this region well as preparations for the coronavirus are made.

Yes, the disease is officially a pandemic and has sparked nationwide cancellations of schools, sporting events and even church services.

But the good news is that these measures are being taken, at least in Mississippi, before the virus reaches epidemic levels here.

Although the virus has already surfaced here in Forrest County and it’s just a matter of time before our neighbors in Lamar County experience the same fate, we must remember that following official warnings will certainly narrow its spread.

Rather than being gripped by fear about things that we can't control or making rash, bulk purchases, residents should focus on the little things they can do to make a big difference in the lives of their neighbors.

The first step is to avoid large gatherings. It makes sense that the more people an infected person comes in contact with, the faster the virus can spread.

Also, because the symptoms can take up to 14 days to emerge after someone is infected, they could be spreading it to others without even feeling sick.

So the best policy is to not interact with large groups unless necessary.

Stay home with your family.

Play some games. Read a book – or better yet, a newspaper – and for heaven’s sake, talk to one another.

A self-quarantine may turn out to be a welcome relief for your family's mental health.

Second, good personal hygiene habits matter.

The virus is spread through the air via water droplets when infected people talk, cough or sneeze.

Those droplets can survive on surfaces like desks or shelves, and another person can be infected if they touch the droplet and then touch their mouth or nose.

Those effects can be mitigated, though, by hand washing and disinfecting hard surfaces. Wash your hands often and do it for at least 20 seconds while thoroughly scrubbing.

Be sure and dry your hands completely because moist surfaces give microscopic organisms a better chance of survival, and use lotion if your hands start to dry out because cracks in the skin can allow viruses in.

Then sanitize your home by using disinfectants, typically simple bleach, as per the instructions on the packaging.

We're confident the greater Hattiesburg area can – and will – beat this challenge, just like it has done all the others.

We just need to keep the faith and listen to public health officials with level heads.