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College street of downtown Athens, Georgia remains eerily quiet and empty on Sunday, March 22, 2020. On Thursday, March 19, the Athens-Clarke County government passed mandatory "shelter-in-place" laws that forced the closure of "non-essential" businesses and urged citizens to avoid unnecessary trips outside their homes, limit gatherings to 10 people, and maintain six feet of distance between others. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach)

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the COVID-19 disease. He wasn’t concerned about it at all, chalking it up to be media sensationalism. It won’t be an issue, he said. Just like always. It’s a conversation I’ve thought about frequently as the weeks of social distancing have dragged on.

The truth is that the experts saw this coming from miles away. They knew that this could be a big deal. Despite their warnings, U.S. society largely ignored the novel coronavirus. We’ll be paying the price for our negligence for a long, long time.

My friend wasn’t alone in his sentiment. It’s something I saw all the time both online and in real life. I, myself, knew the virus was bad, but I’d be lying if I said I knew just how bad it would get.

It didn’t have to be this way, but it took us a long time to give the COVID-19 disease the attention it required. According to a Reuters poll conducted from March 2-3, only two in 10 Republicans and four in 10 Democrats said they thought the novel coronavirus posed an imminent threat.

Experts, on the other hand, knew the danger the novel coronavirus posed and were very concerned. In a New York Times article from Feb. 2, experts warned that the novel coronavirus was likely to become a pandemic.

“It’s very, very transmissible, and it almost certainly is going to be a pandemic,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. “But will it be catastrophic? I don’t know.”

For perspective, the World Health Organization did not even name the disease caused by the novel coronavirus “COVID-19” until Feb. 11. The disease’s outbreak wasn’t officially declared a pandemic until March 11.

When the U.S. responded, it did so slowly. According to The New York Times, although scientists alerted the government of the imminent threat, federal officials did not act urgently, and a problem with tests developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hampered the government’s ability to track the virus.

The result? The U.S. now has the most confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

To stop the pandemic, we'll need to listen to epidemiologists' recommendations. The Trump Administration's decision to extend social distancing guidelines through April 30 is a sign that we may be starting to do so.

Let's hope that it is. When we listen to experts, we’re gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience critical to effective governing. That will be invaluable over the coming days and weeks.

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