Medical Professional Laura Wilhoite of Franklin, TN writes:

I am a physical therapist and I am also certified in wound therapy and lymphedema therapy. For almost 30 years, I have practiced my profession, most of that time in Tennessee where I have lived most of my life, and where I have raised my family.

The hospital where I practice was the first hospital in Tennessee to shut down to visitors because the first COVID-19 case in the state was in my county. Our hospital took the threat of community spread seriously, even as President Trump and Governor Bill Lee were downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus, rather than preparing to respond.

From the time I was in 8th grade, I knew I wanted to be in the medical field. I spent the summer after 8th grade, observing surgeries in the small hospital in my hometown. The next year, my cousin was born with multiple disabilities and I helped with his physical therapy. That was when I saw how quickly patients can improve, and I knew that my career would be as a physical therapist.

I have watched as the doctors, nurses and health professionals with whom I work put their safety on the front lines of this pandemic. And I am dismayed when Governor Lee talks about “personal liberty” as a reason not to enforce the very practices that would combat the spread of COVID-19. In a pandemic, “personal liberty” is less important than the health of our communities and our health care workers. Wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing – these good safety practices matter, and it is how we participate as good community members and good citizens.

This virus is five times more infectious than the flu. It often travels asymptomatically, in people who show no symptoms for weeks. The death rate is nearly 10 times that of the normal flu and unlike the flu, there is currently no treatment, no vaccine, and no defense — except physical separation from people.

If we see hospitals overrun, and thousands dying from a pandemic that is growing unchecked, that puts at risk already overworked and exhausted doctors and nurses who have been working 12-hour shifts. Many of my nurse colleagues worry that if enough of them become infected, there will not be enough of them to take care of each other, let alone the patients who are hospitalized.

In short, we need a serious plan from our elected officials that recognizes the seriousness of this pandemic. The CDC has warned of a second likely wave of COVID-19 this fall, just as schools are beginning to open and early voting begins in a Presidential election. Governor Lee and our state leaders should be planning now to make remote classrooms and absentee voting by mail available to all who want that option. Other states have temporarily expanded absentee voting for this election – Tennessee can and should do the same thing.

My colleagues and I in the health professions take this pandemic very seriously. As we begin to experience increased active infections and hospitalizations in Tennessee, we urgently need to see that same level of concern and action from Governor Lee and our elected representatives, that protect Tennesseans and saves lives.