Members of the Maine House of Representatives recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the first session of the new year, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at the State House House in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

On Monday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams provided a window to what the future could hold here in America as this country and the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, the coronavirus that has killed thousands globally and caused major economic and societal disruption.

“We are at a critical inflection point in this country, people,” Adams told Fox News. “When you look at the projections, there’s every chance that we could be Italy.”

This should be a wakeup call for anyone who still isn’t treating the coronavirus outbreak seriously. Two weeks ago, there were 1,700 cases in Italy with 34 deaths reported. Those numbers have since swelled to over 25,000 cases and 1,800 deaths. Nearly 350 new deaths were announced Monday alone.

U.S. officials must do what they can to prevent this troubling escalation from becoming our reality, but must also take steps to plan for it. Proactivity and prudence are key.

Here in Maine, the Legislature looks poised to make a prudent decision: addressing emergency legislation related to the state coronavirus response and any critical funding on Tuesday, before suspending session temporarily.

“Our priority is promoting and protecting the health and well-being of all Mainers and the people who work in the State House. As legislative leaders, we have decided to take the necessary precaution of suspending our legislative session as soon as possible,” Senate President Troy Jackson, Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, and House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham said in a joint statement Friday evening.

It’s critical to listen to public health experts as this situation unfolds, and these experts are stressing the importance of limiting social interaction, canceling or postponing large events, working from home when possible, and other measures to “ flatten the curve” and reduce community spread of the virus.

Just as institutions have roles to play in trying to flatten the curve of this pandemic, so too do all of us as individuals. Panic doesn’t serve anyone, but responsible and cautious decisions can make a big difference in the effort to protect ourselves and our community.

“We appreciate your patience and understanding as we continue to respond to this rapidly changing public health crisis. Hundreds of lawmakers, advocates and legislative staffers come from all across the state to work at the State House each day,” the legislative leaders continued in their statement. “Suspending the legislative session to mitigate the spread of disease in our communities is the responsible thing to do.”

We agree. There may be an inclination to suggest that, as our elected officials, lawmakers should continue to work in Augusta through this crisis without interruption. But the realities of the Legislature — a collective body of more than 180 members working closely with each other, staff and the public — don’t match with the public health recommendations needed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. This decision should send a statewide message about the importance of social distancing and prioritizing our health and the health of others.

“Thank you for doing your part. If we all prioritize our health and stay informed, we can protect the safety of all those around us,” the four legislative leaders continued.

Before the Legislature adjourns, it should take steps to ensure that Mills has the funding and flexibility necessary to address an escalating situation. A spending deal was announced Monday afternoon.

Mills has already declared a civil emergency, and submitted sensible emergency legislation that would expand unemployment benefits to people whose employment is impacted by the coronavirus.

“Things are likely to get worse before they get better, but they will get better and together, we will get through this,” Mills said Sunday evening.

The actions taken now will help determine just how bad things get or don’t get. Everyone needs to be proactive and exercise caution, and to learn from the experience of other countries like Italy.

“The worst is yet ahead for us,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday. “It is how we respond to that challenge that is going to determine what the ultimate endpoint is going to be.”

The BDN Editorial Board

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...