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A man wearing a protective face mask walks through a sparsely occupied open-air shopping mall amid concerns about the coronavirus, in Richmond, B.C., on Sunday, March 15, 2020. COVID-19 cases are increasing at exponential level in Canada.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”

Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers

In these pandemic times, where each new headline is more frightening than the last, when life as we know it seems to be crumbling beneath our feet, when anxiety levels seem to be reaching Xanax-proof levels, we need a lot more Mr. Rogers.

It’s okay to be scared, or unsure in uncertain times. Look to the helpers.

Recognize too that, as Mr. Rogers said, “There are times when explanations, no matter how reasonable, just don’t seem to help.”

That’s when we most need to look for the helpers, to cling to them as a lifeline, to listen to them, even when their messages seem unpalatable.

The news is bad. There are now more cases of coronavirus outside China than in China - a tipping point. Those cases continue to skyrocket, despite the fact that Western countries had weeks more preparation time.

Even in Canada, one of the Western countries that has been the least hard-hit by COVID-19, cases are increasing at exponential level, doubling every two to three days, with no end in sight.

Yet, even the grimmest forecasts – 10-20 million infected, and 40,000-100,000 deaths in Canada alone – remind us that this is not the apocalypse.

The worst-case scenario is not inevitable. We will survive.

The only way to slow this pandemic is for all of us to become helpers, to embrace the now-familiar concepts of social distancing and self-isolation. In these extraordinary times, we are being asked to take extraordinary actions.

Work from home. Avoid social gatherings. Stop all travel. If you’ve returned from travel, self-isolate – meaning no contact with anyone for 14 days. Schools are being closed. Our sources of entertainment, from pro sports to theatres, are being shut down. Soon, so too will restaurants, bars, malls and all other non-essential services. Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open.

These are sacrifices. They will last for a while. But we’ve survived much worse.

No one is being sent to war – except perhaps our selfless health care workers, who could soon find themselves in battlefield conditions.

Crisis often brings out the best in humanity – and a little bit of the worst.

For every toilet paper hoarder and I’m-gonna-cough-my-lungs-out-on-the-subway guy, there are probably 10 others doing good deeds – shopping for an elderly neighbour, taking in the neighbour’s kids so she can go to work, walking someone’s dog if they are sick, making a donation to the homeless shelter.

In times of crisis, it is always the most vulnerable who suffer most – the frail elderly, people with disabilities, the working poor, the homeless.

Social solidarity is needed now more than ever, and one senses that it is building.

Unlike the Great Influenza of 1918-19, information is not being withheld by censors; if anything, we have a surfeit of information, and dizzying array of data and eerie projections. For the sake of our mental health, we need to shut off our TVs and computers sometimes.

We could all probably use a little more silence in our lives, and the measures taken to slow the pandemic should be viewed as an opportunity to slow down our hectic lives.

Read a book. Binge on that series you’ve been meaning to watch. Connect with long-lost friends – ideally online.

While we retract, though, we have to recognize that we cannot shut down society entirely.

Essential workers need public transit to get to work. Ports, trains, planes and trucks need to roll to ensure food and other essential supplies continue to cross borders.

We need shelf-stockers and store clerks if we’re going to have food and other essentials. We need health workers – personal support workers, lab techs, pharmacists, nurses, doctors, public health officials and others – more than ever. We need first responders – paramedics, firefighters, police – and the workers who maintain our utilities.

“All of us, at some time or other, need help …That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbours – in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver”

– another Mr. Rogers gem of wisdom.

Our helpers are many. They will help us survive a pandemic. And, hopefully, we will learn to appreciate them a little more.

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