“I realized that trusting in our governments to preemptively implement measures that could actually slow the spread of the disease was a lost cause,” Reifschneider wrote in an email Tuesday from Frankfurt. The German government had not yet shut down soccer crowds, he noted. (It has now.) “I had this idea, that maybe I could not only change the minds of my immediate network, but reach out and try to fight this pandemic on a global scale by informing, educating, and giving people a guide on how they personally can take actions that will actually slow the spread.”

The site launched on Tuesday morning, and has since been published in seven languages (eight, if you count the “safe for work” version for those not working from home).

“For me, it’s really not about not getting [the coronavirus] myself, but more so not spreading it to other people that might not be able to fight it off easily,” he wrote. “We should all really think about if our personal inconvenience is justification enough to endanger millions of people that have a higher risk of suffering greatly from this.”

Caring for the caregivers

Of course, staying home and avoiding public transit are privileges not available to everyone.

One of the ethical questions of quarantine and isolation, says Thomas, has to do with the accommodation we offer to others, “how we care for those who are the caregivers.” Those who are employers should be aware that workers may already have children home from school or vulnerable elderly relatives at home, and avoid punitive action against those who cannot come to work.

“And some of us will be employers too,” Thomas said. “If we have a small kid who has a nanny for example, then the nanny may need to leave. How are we going to care for her during this time when she’s relying upon our income?”

Visiting elderly relatives and friends, who may be especially reliant on others for company and care, is also a complicated question. The CDC suggests that those caring for older adults should try to obtain a backup supply of any medications they regularly require, and to help stock up on non-perishable supplies to cut down on shopping trips.

Of course, anyone who believes they have been exposed to the coronavirus or is exhibiting symptoms of a respiratory infection or fever, should stay away from a senior facility. The CDC suggests postponing visits in favor of letters, emails, and videoconferences. And healthcare workers should be screened and monitored as well.

Personal meets public

Even for the experts, the logic driving self-isolation is not entirely definitive. “There’s so much unknown about this virus and, and how infectious it is, a lot of questions that remain—even questions about how fatal it is,” said Thomas. “Those unknowns are not helping us in making decisions about what is necessary.”

“It’s a personal one,” said Thomas of such decisions, “until your health department says it’s not personal.”

Thomas advises keeping an eye on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for advisories, as well as state health departments. “They are often well-staffed and full of smart people,” said Thomas. “The best we have to go on is the advice we are given by the scientists who are doing their best to figure out how this thing works, and to have faith in their ability to work on imperfect knowledge. It will always be imperfect knowledge.”

But it’s up to us to listen to those experts and officials, even though many of the restrictions are “virtually unenforceable,” said Thomas. “A lot of the social distancing recommendations that are given are really down to self-enforcement and what people are willing to do.”

Shortly after Thomas and I hung up the phone, he sent me an email letting me know he’d just heard North Carolina’s latest guidance to mitigate risk of infection, which included limiting mass gatherings.

“While sitting in our car in the parking garage for the theater, my wife and I decided to forfeit the cost of the tickets and not attend the play” he wrote. “Now we are Les Mis. ☹️”

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.