Several months ago, I was alerted by my 92-year-old mother that Dr. Aaron Milstone, my late husband’s pulmonologist, was speaking out publicly about the rapidly growing spread of the coronavirus in Tennessee, and the disastrous consequences for our state if Gov. Bill Lee did not immediately issue a stay at home order to mitigate the spread. Fortunately, Governor Lee listened to Dr. Milstone and 2,000 other doctors and health professionals. Even though Governor Lee’s response was delayed, there is no doubt that lives were saved.
I have lived in Tennessee since 2009 and moved here to be closer to our family after retirement. Most of my family lives close by, but my stepson is an emergency room physician in Chicago. In the early days of this pandemic, personal protective equipment was in very short supply throughout the country, including at the hospital where he works. I shipped a box of surgical masks to him by overnight mail. This should not have been necessary had not many of the Trump administration downplayed the crisis initially. Our national response delay and our failure to prepare our frontline workers to do their critical work safely and with the proper equipment confounded this national health crisis. We could have avoided a nationwide PPE shortage of such devastating magnitude had they listened to experts.
Now, here in Tennessee, Governor Lee has lifted the stay-at-home order and is rapidly re-opening Tennessee’s businesses, against the advice of medical experts like Dr. Milstone. Doctors have warned that bringing workers and the general public together without first addressing this health crisis will be putting workers, the general public and our economy at greater risk. They have strongly urged Governor Lee to put in place a rapid testing and contact tracing process which breaks the chain of transmission as it occurs. Until that process is firmly established, it is not safe to reopen.
Even more perplexing is the lack of masking and social distancing I observe in my community, particularly among senior citizens. Most troubling is that people don’t seem to understand just how infectious this virus is. Doctors know, and they are very worried about this fall and a second wave. This virus is still with us and currently there is no treatment, no vaccine and no cure. By reopening so quickly, our leaders are declaring victory after one phase of reopening.
As we continue to discover how this virus responds, it is critical that we continue to educate ourselves and others about appropriate behaviors for public interaction. This problem is not about nitpicking over personal freedoms. More people need to understand their personal risk and take necessary precautions. Policy makers need to show more concern over public safety and less concern over political posturing.
Our doctors, nurses and front line workers, like Dr. Milstone and my stepson, are putting their lives and their health at risk and this risk is exaggerated if this pandemic spreads unchecked. They worry about their families’ safety and what would happen if they get sick and do not recover. Yet, they courageously continue to care for those patients who need them. Governor Lee must listen to the health experts who understand the risks, and protect them, our communities and our state. Only then is it safe to fully re-open.