Don’t be an April fool with COVID-19

Johnson City Press • Apr 1, 2020 at 8:37 AM

Tennesseans are waking up to a new reality today — sort of.

At no time in modern history have citizens been under such constriction and facing such a pervasive public health crisis, but many critics say the state has acted too late and did not go far enough to curb the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Gov. Bill Lee issued a “safer-at-home” order effective just before midnight last night. Johnson City and other local governments enacted similar measures.

But people will still be active in public during this state of emergency. Those of us working in “essential” sectors will still be traveling to and from work. That list of qualifying functions is a mile long. It’s hard to say what Tennessee considers a non-essential workplace.

Essential or not, all of us will still be allowed out to shop for groceries, fill prescriptions, drive to the bank and complete other necessary tasks. People will still be allowed outside to exercise.

Experts tell us that limiting those trips, social distancing measures and hygiene practices — hand washing, not touching your face and cleaning surfaces for example — will mitigate exposure to the virus. The governor’s order often uses the phrase “strongly encouraged to” when talking about limiting essential activity and following safety recommendations.

Did Lee act too slowly by waiting until Monday? Was his order too timid to prevent further spread? Did it really accomplish more than his earlier orders?

Time will be the judge, but it was apparent for some time that further actions — both at the governmental and personal levels — were inevitable. COVID-19 confirmations in Tennessee grew from 98 on March 19 to 2,239 on Tuesday. That’s a 2,185% change in a 12-day period.

Whether the numbers jumped more because of increased testing or rampant community spread is hard to say, but the rapid ascent is mind-boggling.

More sobering statistics: COVID-19’s deadly nature finally hit close to home Tuesday as Ballad Health announced the health care system’s first fatality. Statewide, that number hit 23. Nationwide, it passed 3,000, and projections were far worse.

There are just not enough ways to sound the alarm here. Take that “strongly encouraged” message and amplify it tenfold.

If you manage an essential business, do everything possible to facilitate telecommuting and other options for working from home. Clean, clean and clean again.

If you are an essential employee who cannot work from home, take every precaution under the sun to prevent the spread.

Finally, all of us should limit trips out to absolute necessities. Do your shopping in bulk when possible — without hoarding. Take advantage of online ordering and pickup, as well as telemedicine options. Stay 6 feet away from others in public. Use hand sanitizers and wash every chance you get.

If you feel ill, stay home.

This is no April fool’s joke, folks. Lives are at stake, and ignoring health care professionals’ advice is complicity.

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