Me-first behavior could cost lives, threaten economic recovery.

As all states begin to relax restrictions related to the coronavirus, it may feel like a corner is being turned and normal is nearing.

Not exactly. Health experts are not ambivalent. The virus will dictate timelines. What has been done so far has slowed the rate of infection, not defeated it. Mitigation strategies—social distancing, masks and exercising personal responsibility—remain the only effective safeguard, for now. The world’s best scientific minds are working overtime to develop a vaccine. Likewise, medical experts are working hard to develop treatments for the infected. And, eventually, what they call herd immunity—when as many as two of every three people have experienced the virus or been vaccinated—likely will be reached. A key unanswered question, though, is whether a person who has had the disease can get it again. Nobody knows for sure.

It’s been said that crisis reveals character. As the country gradually has been reopening, too many are exhibiting the deep character flaw of personal recklessness and indifference to others’ health.

A classic example and widely reported story over Memorial Day weekend involved a big crowd that was filmed partying in a Lake of the Ozarks pool. The lake region is something of a playground for the St. Louis metro area. Here’s how visibly shaken officials described what they saw.

“(The behavior) was irresponsible and dangerous,” said St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson. “It’s just deeply disturbing.”

“This reckless behavior endangers countless people and risks setting us back substantially from the progress we have made in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Sam Page, St. Louis County executive.

Just about the worst scenario imaginable, after more than two months of national sacrifice, would be for reckless behavior to plunge America into a new rash of outbreaks that might even eclipse the first round. Should that happen, the only option from a public health standpoint could be another severe lockdown until there’s a vaccine and herd immunity is reached.

As is the case with many of life’s punishing outcomes, this is within one’s control through exercising responsible personal behavior. But unlike some situations, an individual’s reckless behavior in the coronavirus climate will impact not only that person, but others as well.

Every American should be supportive of sensibly and gradually reopening the economy. More than 40 million people have filed new unemployment benefit applications since the virus arrived. From the largest to the smallest, millions of U.S. businesses have been closed or are operating at reduced capacity.

Getting businesses and people back to work is crucial to surviving this crisis with the least possible long-term damage. Responsible behavior is a critical component in making that possible.

Keep in mind many service and hospitality businesses will be restricted to operating at 25-50 percent of normal. For many, that’s not a profitable proposition. Rather, it’s a step-by-step process toward returning to normal as time passes. Reckless behaviors that—like the St. Louis official said—set back the country could be a death sentence for many small businesses struggling to re-start. This is the time to be a team player and a credit to your community.

Meanwhile, keep supporting your hometown businesses. Gradually and carefully venture out as businesses reopen, if you feel safe doing so. Be sure to comply with scientific guidance on social distancing and masking. If you do not feel comfortable venturing out, that’s OK. Still, take advantage of opportunities for take-out, curbside deliveries, buy now enjoy later gift cards and so forth.

This is both a public health and an economic crisis. Don’t be a selfish jerk. Don’t be a science denier. Do your part to make it better, not worse, by following proper guidance for safely and gradually reopening the economy.