My name is Beverly Smith and I want to share my story with you about why I’m asking my fellow Tennesseans to take coronavirus seriously and protect each other by wearing a mask, staying six feet apart and washing your hands. My family has been personally impacted by the spread of this disease.
Last January, after 8 months of waiting, my nephew Gary was placed on the list for a double lung transplant. Gary is 38 and had been diagnosed 4 years earlier with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that was destroying his lungs. But, when COVID-19 hit Tennessee in March, all transplant lists were frozen.
Fortunately – after refusing to listen to health experts and downplaying the seriousness of the virus – 2,000 doctors in Tennessee finally convinced Governor Bill Lee to issue a stay at home order. It worked. The doctors were right and Tennessee lowered the curve and slowed the spread of coronavirus.
As a result, Gary was placed back on the transplant list and received his double lung transplant on May 19. His recovery has been remarkable and, thanks to his doctors and health care team, he has a bright and healthy future. As part of his therapy, he was required to have a full-time caregiver for 90 days and I agreed to take on that responsibility. It has been a joy to participate in his recovery, but it has given me a unique perspective on this pandemic.
Because Gary is taking immunosuppressant drugs which reduce the chance that his body will reject the lung transplant, he has a higher risk of contracting coronavirus if he is exposed. So, we are very careful to quarantine and travel only when required for his regular therapy appointments. We simply don’t go if people aren’t wearing masks and socially distancing – it’s too dangerous for him.
But, there’s another reason I’m asking you to wear a mask and stay six feet apart. Since Governor Lee reopened the state without a cautious approach to protect lives, and the economy, we have seen a rapid rise in the spread of this virus. If this had happened in April, instead of flattening the curve, Gary would not have gotten his transplant and his life would be in danger. There may be others just like him who are waiting now because of the current rapid spread.
My question to Governor Lee is this – How many more people have to die before you take this virus seriously and do what needs to be done to protect the lives of Tennesseans: mandate mask wearing, enforce physical distancing. This virus is highly infectious, travels asymptomatically and, unlike the flu, there is no treatment, no vaccine and no defense – except physical distancing and masking.
This epidemic would not be where it is today if Governor Lee had not rushed to reopen the economy without first implementing robust testing and rapid contact tracing to find, notify and isolate people who are infected. We are seeing the devastating impact now, not only on our economy, but on human lives. The economy will be hurt for a much longer time now, but it can come back. Public health and safety come first.
We need leadership from Governor Lee and President Trump and a clear message and plan that protects lives. In the meantime, I am asking my fellow Tennesseans to protect each other by wearing a mask, staying six feet apart and practicing regular and routine handwashing. We will get through this together.