As COVID-19, commonly called coronavirus, continues to spread throughout our community, many of us both in government and in daily life face enormous choices. Throughout this pandemic, we have been working hard at the state government to address our working families’ needs during this crisis.

While I have heard numerous opinions on the topic, it seems evident that the scientific factors behind these critical policy decisions just aren’t getting out to the general public. Simply stated, many don’t seem to understand the deadly threat this pandemic poses, especially to rural America, where our health care resources are already scarce.

There is a misinformed, and frankly dangerous, perception that COVID-19 is similar to influenza. While influenza and COVID-19 are both viruses, COVID-19 has a much higher mortality rate. Our death toll more than doubled this week alone.

Part of what makes it so deadly is that while we can treat symptoms, there’s no way of slowing, much less curing, the virus.

The other danger with this virus is that it is highly infectious. It spreads quickly. Even worse, infected patients will not show symptoms until several days, up to two weeks, after exposure.

As such, a person who was exposed can go several days spreading the disease around before he or she shows symptoms and realizes that s/he needs to self-isolate. Because this deadly contagion spreads so quickly, our nation’s hospitals are beginning to fill up and run out of supplies, most devastatingly personal protective equipment for our health care workers.

Across the globe, where COVID-19 spread unchecked, in places such as China and Italy, health care workers are facing impossible decisions because of their overloaded hospitals. Doctors are having to decide who gets one of the limited number of ventilators and when to stop trying to treat the infection to use medications on other, more viable patients.

Because of the threat that disease poses, a thorough, coordinated policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic depends on everyone. Our state and local governments are taking only the most necessary steps to implement social distancing, which medical professionals agree is our best chance to save lives and prevent even more economic devastation and overload our health care system.

The governor’s shelter-in-place order was made to reduce what we know is one of the deadliest parts of this virus: community transmission. These decisions are not made easily. They depend on the best data available from public health experts about the unprecedented challenge presented by this virus.

As you’ll see in the executive order, there are exemptions for businesses that provide essential services such as grocery stores and pharmacies. On the ground, stores and local businesses are showing remarkable flexibility and initiative in responding to this crisis.

Companies are finding unique and creative approaches to continue offering services to the customers who depend on them.

I can assure you that at the state level, we’re doing everything we can to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our economy, while also keeping our citizens safe. Now more than ever, it’s vital that everyone shops local and supports our small businesses and their employees during this challenging time.

We have examples of what could happen to our country and our health care system if we fail to follow these guidelines and fail to slow the spread of the disease.

In Italy, the health care system is in near-total collapse. Doctors are having to choose who lives and who dies because there are not enough supplies to treat every patient. The entire country is on a near-total lock down and despite being magnitudes of size smaller, Italy has had more deaths than China.

This scene of death and disorder is a horrifying future and one that we are desperately trying to avoid by implementing these measures.

As we move forward in curbing the transmission of this highly contagious disease, I urge everyone ― governments, local businesses and citizens ― to follow the guidance of public health officials as new information emerges.

The bottom line is that this is a deadly, highly contagious disease that simply doesn’t have a cure, vaccine or even an effective treatment. We must take this virus seriously, and the more we all follow the public health orders and guidelines, the quicker we can all return to a healthier daily life.

Bri Buentello represents District 47 in the Colorado House of Representatives, which covers parts of Pueblo, Fremont and Otero counties.