Here we are, facing a potential pandemic with our pants down. Over the past two years we have disassembled our domestic epidemic capabilities, at the same time that we dismantled our international assistance for disease control. If this were Star Trek, we’d have lost our warp drive at the same time our shields were down.

But here’s the good news. At this point, we’re looking at an illness that only kills 2 to 3% of it’s victims–maybe less with good medical care. We’ve had the good fortune to have our shortcomings pointed out in a dry-run epidemic. (I do not, in any way, want to undermine the suffering of those afflicted in a serious way.) But, from a national perspective, this is a slap on the wrist for our failure to remain ready for the threat. We can learn from this.

Of course, there are ugly lessons out there. The first round of flu in 1918 was relatively benign–before it mutated into the lethal form. And so, we should keep our eyes open. But the lessons of 1918 should not be lost–keep the public informed. Tell the truth. If you’re going to ask folks to participate in minimizing risks, you need to be honest about what the risks are. So far, we’re not rising to the occasion here. It’s not a good idea to call the pandemic a hoax–while at the same time, congratulating yourself for handling it well–when, in fact, you’ve done nothing. Less than nothing.

We can do better, even without quality leadership. We can educate ourselves about the risks, we can take steps to avoid the spread of illness. We can be ready to self-isolate if necessary. We can assist others if there’s need. Who wouldn’t be willing to drop off some gatorade and a casserole for a neighbor? Flex our community muscles and we may just discover that we actually have a community.

And, we can avoid the ugliness that comes with any epidemic. If infected, self-isolate. If exposed, don’t expose others. You cannot outrun a virus. Exercise that ancient Ring-Around-the-Rosy wisdom and resist the urge to run, and spread, the illness. Wash your hands. Cover your cough. Drink plenty of fluids and get adequate rest. All of us can engage in common-sense self care. And, stick to science.