From The Auburn Citizen of New York

DURING THE long process of counting an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots in battleground states that ultimately brought Joe Biden the presidential election victory, political observers filled much of the waiting time with discussions about how to heal the deep divide in this nation.

Restoring some semblance of bipartisanship is something President-elect Biden has vowed to do, and to a certain degree, it’s a goal that will take a long time to achieve.

But on one vital issue, Democrats and Republicans can and should come together swiftly and with badly needed urgency: the COVID-19 response.

As America’s attention was consumed by the election, public health data continued pouring in that shows we are once again being hit by a severe wave of this virus. It’s a wave that, as hard as it is to fathom, could throw us back into the darkest days when the pandemic first hit the United States last spring.

On the national level, public health agencies in the United States reported single-day records for newly confirmed cases on three straight days, culminating with 132,700 new cases on Friday Nov. 6.

These numbers are alarming, and they can’t be dismissed. That’s the very bad news.

The good news is that the nation is now in a position to turn the tide.

Unlike the first big national coronavirus wave in the spring, there is now a solid testing and tracing infrastructure in place (although it still needs to be improved).

Treatments have become more effective and work toward a safe and effective vaccine marches on. We also know much more about the behavioral practices that are most effective at preventing spread.

The other reason for optimism is that the presidential election is over, and with that comes a huge opportunity to knock down false information about the pandemic via a bipartisan educational effort. Our deeply divided politics likely fostered coronavirus spread because large segments of the population have believed that this pandemic was just a political creation.

But now everyone can see: The voting has taken place, and the virus still rages on. It didn’t disappear with an election.

President-elect Biden needs to reach out to Republican leaders who are willing to stand up with him and build a united front against COVID-19.

There will certainly be continued debate about economic restrictions connected to the virus. That’s understandable — and it can even be a good thing that results in the most effective policy responses that are based on sound science.

A more immediate and crucial step that the president-elect must take is to launch a bipartisan and a highly visible education effort that urges all Americans to take this pandemic seriously.

It means wearing masks.

It means maintaining physical distance with other people.

It means keeping social circles small, and avoiding large gatherings.

It means being smart, calm and safe.

That’s a message with the power to unite. That’s a message America needs.

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