If ever an image reflected the times, it was Staff Writer Jonathan Roberts’ photo of the ribbon cutting for bioPURE’s new headquarters published in Wednesday’s edition.
The photo stands out because only one of the people pictured, Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, was wearing a mask as advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid transmission of the novel coronavirus. These folks stood side by side, not 6-feet apart. Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy also wore a mask at times during the event on Tuesday, but he had pulled it away from his mouth and nose during the speeches.
The image on Wednesday’s front page sums up where we are as a city, a state and a nation. As our society “reopens,” some are following the CDC’s advice. Others are not.
The irony in the situation is that bioPURE is a company that specializes in sanitizing and disinfecting work spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed its services in high demand.
Brock was the sole Johnson City commissioner to don a mask April 30 for the commission’s only in-person session since the state of emergency promoted a shift to live-streaming meetings in March. She has not necessarily done so out of concern for her own safety. A cloth mask reduces the potentially infected wearer’s probability of giving the virus to someone else, not the other way around.
Our purpose here is not to find fault with the others in the ribbon-cutting photo. Masks are not mandatory in this state or in this city. Although we have not been immune — Washington County had reported 65 cases as of Wednesday — this region has not been devastated by COVID-19 the way more densely populated urban centers have. So masks may not seem like a high priority to some — so far.
What we can say is that Brock is leading by example. It’s what true leaders do.
As our city’s top elected official, she is demonstrating the responsibility that comes with that honor. Brock is showing her concern for others’ wellbeing in a rather public, unflattering way. We’re sure she’d prefer not to be masked in public, especially at a joyous occasion. Again, setting aside vanity is what real leaders do.
Others in high places could take a page from her book.
We cannot forget that as of Wednesday seven people in Northeast Tennessee had succumbed to this plague — among 273 deaths statewide. That pales in comparison to the more than 83,000 people lost to COVID-19 nationwide. Still, seven lives are seven lives.
Until the public health and medical communities have a true grip on COVID-19, we must remain vigilant.
Follow our mayor’s example. Set aside politics, comfort and pride. Any of us could be asymptomatic carriers. Protect your fellow humans.