In times such as these, communities come together, even when in a literal sense they cannot.

On Thursday, the state of Alabama joined other states — states with larger, more dense populations that have been hit hardest, first — in enacting drastic measures to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

The Alabama Department of Public Health issued edicts restricting preschools and day cares. (Public schools had already been ordered closed entirely.) It barred on-site dining at restaurants, many if not most of which had already switched to offering only takeout and delivery. It ordered hospitals and nursing homes to restrict access, again making official something most had begun doing already. It limited gatherings of 25 or more people and smaller gatherings where people cannot maintain a distance from one another of at least 6 feet. And, lastly, ADPH closed the state’s public and private beaches.

This last is particularly noteworthy. In all the other cases, local governments, businesses and civil groups were well ahead of the state in enacting measures to stem the coronavirus. Yet as spring break began to unleash thousands of college students on the Gulf Coast, many young people refused to take the COVID-19 threat seriously.

It warrants repeating: While young, healthy people are least at risk from COVID-19, they are not at zero risk, especially if they have some underlying, undiagnosed medical condition. Also, there is some evidence that anyone who catches the new coronavirus may suffer long-term — possibly permanent — lung scarring leading to diminished lung capacity. That may not affect a young person much now, but it could lead to dangerous complications later in life. Most importantly, anyone, even people who are not showing symptoms, can become a COVID-19 carrier and transmit the virus to older people or people with medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable.

You will see this disclaimer in many coronavirus stories: “Most people have had mild to moderate illness and recovered, but the virus is more serious for those who are older or have other health problems.”

It is vital to take the part after the “but” seriously.

For the most part, our community has begun doing that, and residents here are doing what they can to help one another even as they try to maintain “social distance.”

At the end of 2020, “social distancing” will likely be a prime candidate for either Merriam-Webster’s or the Oxford dictionary’s word of the year. But the correct term is “physical distancing,” because as communities we are having to come closer together even as we increase the physical proximity between us.

This has happened in large and small ways, from big chain grocery stores taking ideas floated on social media, such as setting aside some hours just for their senior citizen customers to shop, to mom-and-pop retailers taking orders online and by phone and delivering to their customers or meeting them at the curb. Many businesses, especially small businesses and their employees, are already feeling the crunch and will struggle in the days and weeks ahead. Those of us who can — those of us not working reduced hours or laid off — need to keep these retailers in mind and be there for them as they are here for us.

In the meantime, charitable groups are going to need more help than usual. For example, Morgan County’s Meals on Wheels is seeking drivers to fill in for usual volunteers who, because they are elderly themselves or have health issues, cannot do the organization’s job of delivering hot meals each weekday to the elderly. Individuals interested in volunteering can contact the Community Action Partnership of North Alabama at 256-355-7843 or visit capna.org/volunteer.

This is our chance to rise to the challenge as individuals and as a community. There will be time later to figure out where the federal government failed us. For now, what is important is that we do not fail ourselves.

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