Business, education and faith leaders from across the region signed a letter on Thursday urging the region to support health care workers by following public health recommendations.
"We can help reduce this risk by taking steps to protect ourselves, our families and the people we care for," the letter read. "We can take steps to reduce the spread of the virus, and we can take steps to reduce the risk of the flu.
"Is this a guarantee that we won't see the consequences of the spread? No. But if we do nothing, we can practically guarantee the worst case is likely to happen."
The letter also warns about overwhelming the region's health care system, and "strongly encourages" people to take personal responsibility by wearing a mask and social distancing.
"If you are out in public, we strongly encourage you to take personal responsibility and wear a mask if you're able to do so safely," it read. "Socially distance and keep interactions to small groups. If you're planning to host a large event, find a virtual solution or postpone it until it's safe to do so. If that is not possible, take all appropriate steps to ensure physical distancing."
Twenty people signed the letter, including university leaders Dr. Bill Greer (Milligan University), Donna Henry (University of Virginia-Wise) John Wells (Emory & Henry College) and Dr. Brian Noland (East Tennessee State University); business leaders Grant Summers, president of Summers-Taylor Inc.; Bristol Motor Speedway General Manager Jerry Caldwell; Nuclear Fuel Services President John Stewart; Eastman Chemical CEO Mark Costa and Food City CEO Steven Smith.
Johnson City Press Publisher Rick Thomason, who is also president of the Press' parent company, Six Rivers Media LLC, was also a signee.
"We all carry on our own responsibilities each day, and sometimes, we do not understand the lengths to which others go to serve our needs. In this case, our healthcare resources have done, and are doing, all we can ask of them," the letter said. "So, in turn, we ask everyone in our region to support them."
The letter reads:
"As leaders of organizations touching every part of the Appalachian Highlands, we believe it is important to speak out about issues that affect our team members, their families and our extended communities.
Right now, there is no issue more concerning to us than the growing threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
We are concerned that the surge of cases of COVID-19 cases in our region is resulting in increased hospitalizations, death and continued economic disruption. These issues are real, and they are happening all around us. Each of us has experienced team members, friends, family members or neighbors who have been directly or indirectly affected.
Despite varying outlooks and perspectives about this virus, as a community, we must do our part to protect each other.
We are grateful for the focus and response we have seen from Ballad Health and our health departments from their respective team members and community partners. For almost nine months, they have been on the front lines, working each day to protect our loved ones and serving those who are afflicted with the virus and need care.
We could not ask for more from them.
But they cannot handle this alone. It is too much to ask of our nurses, doctors and allied health professionals to be there for us, without us also doing our part to help them.
For almost nine months, the public has been told in a transparent way what would happen if this virus spread, and for a long time, our region did a good job containing it. However, in the last few weeks, we've seen a dramatic increase in community spread. In addition to increased human suffering, the rapid spread of this virus threatens to overwhelm our healthcare delivery system – in fact, the signs are there that this is already happening.
Why is this important to us? Due to the spread of this virus nationally, and due to the significant increase in demand for what was already a shortage of nurses nationally and worldwide, staffing resources are not abundant; to wit, they’re more limited than usual. These limitations mean that, as COVID-19 cases increase and we confront the flu season, our nurses, doctors and allied health professionals could become overwhelmed and struggle to serve even the basic needs of our communities.
This does not have to happen. We can help reduce this risk by taking steps to protect ourselves, our families and the people we care for. We can take steps to reduce the spread of the virus, and we can take steps to reduce the risk of the flu.
Is this a guarantee that we won't see the consequences of the spread? No. But if we do nothing, we can practically guarantee the worst case is likely to happen.
If you are out in public, we strongly encourage you to take personal responsibility and wear a mask if you're able to do so safely. Socially distance and keep interactions to small groups. If you're planning to host a large event, find a virtual solution or postpone it until it's safe to do so. If that is not possible, take all appropriate steps to ensure physical distancing. Please get a flu shot now, in order to help mitigate the severity of the upcoming flu season. And keep up with the simple things like frequently washing your hands and covering coughs and sneezes. If you are experiencing symptoms, get tested. If you're asked to quarantine, do so for the entire 14-day period to keep from spreading the virus to others.
If you balk at wearing a mask around others, please consider the fact that nurses and allied health professionals work 12-hour shifts and wear a mask the entire time, even as they must change their PPE each time they enter a patient room.
They must also act as family members, comforting very sick patients – even if they know the patient might not survive or will continue to suffer. They are the ones who have to call the family to tell them a patient has not survived. They carry the emotional burden of constantly dealing with a disease no one has experience with. They go home after their shift and carry the fear they might have been exposed and could be impacting their own families.
We all carry on our own responsibilities each day, and sometimes, we do not understand the lengths to which others go to serve our needs. In this case, our healthcare resources have done, and are doing, all we can ask of them. So, in turn, we ask everyone in our region to support them.
When it is one of our team members, or their families, or even our own who need the caring and expertise of these healthcare providers, we want those resources to be available.
Please pay attention. Please heed the guidance of Ballad Health experts and our regional healthcare leaders.
People of all ages have fallen ill from this virus, and some have lost their lives. Our thoughts are with their families during these extremely difficult times. We all know someone who is at risk or who needs our support.
Please join us in slowing the spread of this virus. We will get through this, but it will take all of us working together."