"I know it's a time of hysteria and nerves, but offer to help anyone you can," Rebecca Mehra wrote on Twitter

By Robyn Merrett
March 13, 2020 06:15 PM

An Oregon woman is reminding the public to practice kindness and compassion amid the hysteria brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, professional runner Rebecca Mehra revealed in a series of tweets that during a recent trip to the grocery store she noticed an elderly couple sitting in their car.

“I went to the grocery store this afternoon. As I was walking in, I heard a woman yell to me from her car,” Mehra wrote.

“I walked over and found an elderly woman and her husband. She cracked her window open a bit more, and explained to me nearly in tears that they are afraid to go in the store,” Mehra continued.

Mehra said the woman explained that she and her husband are in their 80s “and hear that the novel coronavirus is affecting older people disproportionately and that they don’t have family around to help them out.”

That’s when the elderly woman handed Mehra a $100 bill and a grocery list.

Mehra explained the woman “asked if I would be willing to buy her groceries.”

Without thinking twice, Mehra said, “I bought the groceries and placed them in her trunk, and gave her back the change.”

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Before Mehra came along, the elderly couple “had been sitting in the car for nearly 45 minutes.”

The woman explained to Mehra that she was “waiting to ask the right person for help.”

“I know it’s a time of hysteria and nerves, but offer to help anyone you can. Not everyone has people to turn to,” Mehra added.

Mehra’s story has since gone viral, with several Twitter users commending her good deed.

“Good thinking. And check up on family members and make sure they have enough food and meds,” one user wrote in response.

“Thank you so much. These are moments that bring us together as people, and compassion like yours is what will get us through,” a different social media users tweeted.

In an interview with CBS News, Mehra explained that the encounter was “the first time I thought about this is how much it’s affecting my community.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults are most at risk as well as people who have serious chronic medical conditions like: heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. There currently is no vaccine.

As of Friday, there are now at least 1,663 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States.

At least 41 people in the U.S. have died from coronavirus-related illness, mostly in Washington state.

The number of confirmed cases jumped up by nearly 400 over the last 24 hours, the largest day-to-day increase yet.

Worldwide, there are now 138,069 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 5,103 deaths

The first cases of a mysterious respiratory illness — what is now known as COVID-2019, a form of coronavirus — began in Wuhan, China in late December. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency, the first since the zika epidemic in 2016.

map of coronavirus cases in the U.S.
Martin Schwartz/PEOPLE

At first, this coronavirus was contained to China, but Wuhan is a major transportation hub with hundreds of flights leaving and landing from the city of 11 million each day. Soon, as people flew from the area to different countries, the coronavirus reached more countries, including the United States.

The first case was found in Everett, Washington, just outside of Seattle, in a man who had recently returned from Wuhan. The number of cases grew slowly from there, with a total of just 14 over the course of about a month, but as February came to an end, the virus began to spread more rapidly in communities across the U.S.

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On Feb. 26, California health officials announced the first case of community spread — meaning someone had contracted coronavirus despite no recent travel, and had likely unknowingly come in contact with someone with the disease. From there, the number of U.S. cases jumped up, particularly in Washington state, where there are now 420 people with coronavirus, and 31 deaths.

The first death came on Feb 29, in a woman in her 50s with pre-existing health conditions. The second followed just one day later, in a man in his 70s who also had pre-existing health conditions and was living in a long-term nursing facility near Seattle. Health officials have since announced 29 more deaths in the state, with most coming from patients at the nursing facility.

The virus has since caused a worldwide panic with many people being forced into quarantine or voluntarily going into self-isolation in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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