The word on everyone’s mind right now is Coronavirus. Unfortunately, this virus strain has become so prevalent and well-known that it has begun to make a significant impact on business and commerce.

Take as an example the recent episode at North Star Mall in San Antonio. In that instance, a single case of the virus was detected in the food court, causing a full evacuation of the mall and a 24-hour mall shutdown for a deep cleaning. The economic effects of these actions are still being calculated, but with 170 stores, they have certainly reached into the millions of dollars.

The financial repercussions of the Coronavirus have made their effects felt across the global markets. In fact, the three major financial indices are currently at their lowest levels since last summer. As of last Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial average was down 566 points or 2.3 percent, the S&P 500 was down 92 points or three percent, and the Nasdaq was down 293 points or 3.3 percent.

Airlines have been feeling the pinch as well. Lufthansa Group, one of the world’s largest airline companies, has planned to cut up to 50 percent of its flights in the coming weeks due to a rapid decline in demand.

Another example can be found in your local grocery store, pharmacy, or wholesale club. If you have been searching for hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, or facial masks, then you know that stocks are low, with many stores not currently having these items available. This has become such a concern so as to prompt certain citizens to utilize spirits such as vodka in the place of hand sanitizer, subsequently prompting media releases from companies such as Tito’s Handmade Vodka stating that their product cannot substitute for hand sanitizer as its alcohol content does not meet CDC guidelines.

Can you feel the panic?

I would ask that we all stop for a moment to educate ourselves and reconsider. I believe that this is a time for us to remain vigilant, but not panic. Your physical health, mental health, and your pocketbook will thank you.

And I am not alone. Here in Laredo, Dr. Hector Gonzalez and the City of Laredo Health Department released a statement last week which aimed to explain Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, to the public and provide updates regarding local prevention efforts. In that statement it was reported that over 80 percent of all people infected with the virus have mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Prevention efforts include washing your hands, coughing into your elbow, getting vaccinated, and staying home if you are sick; essentially, good hygiene that we should all practice at all times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, agrees. Their current recommendations for business owners include actively encouraging sick employees to stay home, practicing respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, performing routine environmental cleaning, and monitoring employee travel. Again, standard operating procedure for most businesses.

As we learn more about the Coronavirus, what remains clear is that we must educate ourselves, prepare for contingencies, and remain vigilant regarding Coronavirus or any other credible threat to our health and safety. And, of course, we must remember to wash our hands properly, use our common sense, and practice good hygiene. Again, this is a time for vigilance, not panic.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column first appeared in the Laredo Morning Times. It appears in the Rio Grande Guardian with the author’s blessing.