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A recent trip to the supermarket proved alarmingly eye-opening.


I saw virtually no difference between the scenes that presented themselves then and those that I had witnessed before the advent of the coronavirus.


People walked about paying little heed to those about them. They brushed past their fellow shoppers, queued up at the registers in compact, ragged lines and conversed face to face with the cashiers. It was as if the recent meme of “social distancing” was something people in Italy or China did that had no relevance here.


Trying to maintain the minimal 6-foot separation from everyone, I felt like I had been transported back to my youth into a game of flag football. I had to dodge and weave my way through the streams of humanity, abruptly detouring and occasionally lunging desperately to keep from actually making physical contact with a distracted consumer.


What's going on here?


There is, at this moment, an invisible killer stalking the streets of our nation — an inhuman assassin who wields his weapon without remorse, without hesitation — who needs only the opportunity strike. That opportunity is provided by unthinking individuals acting as if nothing has changed.


But everything has changed.


The coronavirus is here and it threatens to wreck unimaginable havoc if people continue to deny the seriousness of what we face.


It didn't help that for weeks our president acted as if there was no need for concern — an irresponsible attitude magnified by the fawning conservative media (Rush Limbaugh: “The coronavirus is just the common cold, folks.”)


Our federal government is finally mobilizing as it should have weeks ago, but the president still daily misinforms and emanates none of the urgency needed to galvanize the nation; instead, he suggests this will all be over soon. It will not!


Each of us need to take responsibility for our behaviors. Each of us need to ensure that we obtain reliable information from experts and act accordingly.


It's unfortunate that human nature is such that we too often deny unpleasant truths — sometimes until it's too late. COVID-19 is here. It is merciless, relentless and it will not stop until we act responsibly to stop it.


In three short months, it has spread to virtually every country on earth.


We can't wish it away and we can't wait for technology to bail us out as a vaccine is more than a year away. Thousands of people are going to die, and if we don't change our behaviors, it's possible that millions could fall.


The cure — distancing and isolation — though painful, is not worse than the “problem” as Trump suggests, because the problem is death.


Those of us that ignore this disease and our responsibilities will contribute to the demise of others ... and possibly ourselves. We all need to wake up.


Thomas W. Muther Jr. is a retired psychiatric RN and longtime human rights activist and lifelong resident of Topeka.