On July 13, this newspaper published an editorial entitled “The truth about masks,” addressing some of the common misconceptions about what facial coverings do and don’t do in the midst of a pandemic.
At that time, Scott County had 13 active cases of coronavirus. And it was clear that the numbers would keep going up.
Fast-forward 18 days, and Scott County is up to 51 active cases of the virus. The TN Dept. of Health reported 10 new cases of the virus in our community on Tuesday, 12 on Thursday and 11 on Friday. Even as people are recovering from Covid-19 illness, the number of active cases is on the increase.
And, still, it’s clear that the numbers will keep going up.
Those numbers might strike fear in the hearts of some. But, truth be told, they’re pretty good numbers, as coronavirus numbers go. At 2.3 active cases per 1,000 residents, Scott County is still at a little less than half the active number of cases statewide, which are at 5.5 per 1,000 residents. There have been no deaths associated with the virus in Scott County, and very few cases of serious illness. There’s still time for us to control this virus in our community.
But, if we’re being honest, time is running out. According to a data analysis by the University of Tennessee, Scott County’s virus transmission rate is the third-highest in the state, out of 95 counties. In other words, Covid-19 is spreading at a faster rate in Scott County than just about anywhere else in the state. As cases increase, we’ll be less effective at protecting our vulnerable residents — those who elderly or who have underlying health conditions, and especially those who reside in our community’s nursing homes. As the numbers rise, hospitalizations and even deaths will inevitably follow. We know from experience that Covid-19 causes only mild illness in most people; an overwhelming majority will recover within a few days. But sometimes — for reasons that aren’t just limited to comorbidities and advanced age, and for reasons even health experts don’t fully understand — those who are infected aren’t as lucky.
To be certain, nobody wants Scott County’s economy to be shut down. Our community struggles enough with financial prosperity as it is. We don’t want our restaurant owners, our salon owners and our factories forced to shut their doors. We don’t want any of their employees to be out of work — especially now that the additional federal benefits are expiring with no guarantee of being extended or reinstated by Congress.
Our best shot of keeping the virus in check while also keeping our economy intact and our businesses open are to take mask recommendations seriously. They’re uncomfortable, they’re not 100% effective, and they’re hardly fashionable — but they might just also represent our best chance to get a grip on a virus that has hardly dealt us a direct blow yet but seems to be well on its way to doing just that.
County Mayor Jeff Tibbals has asked Scott County residents to wear masks. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has asked Tennesseans to wear masks. President Donald Trump has asked Americans to wear masks.
It’s too late for an original plea from this newspaper. We can’t be the first to ask it, but we can be the next: Please, for the sake of our community’s health and safety, wear your masks!
There has been a noticeable increase in the number of Scott Countians wearing masks over the past three weeks, mostly because key retailers like Walmart are requesting that their customers wear masks. But, if we’re being honest, we all know that we’re coming up short. Too many of the businesses that have mandated masks for their employees aren’t actually making sure that their employees wear their masks correctly. And the businesses that have requested masks of their customers are seeing those requests fall on the deaf ears of too many of their customers.
Dr. Allison Gilbert, of South Fork Physical Therapy, who has become the most visible face of the coronavirus pandemic within our community because she bravely chose to share her story after being hospitalized with the virus, had powerful comments Friday about the need to wear a mask. They speak more truth into the mask subject than any words we write could hope to do.
“We need to humble ourselves as a community and start trying to protect each other instead of trying to be ‘right,'” Dr. Gilbert said. “This is a virus, it does not care which church you go to, who you vote for, or where you work. It just needs a host.”
“One thing I’ve noticed since being out a time or two this week: so many people are very ‘brave’ and think this virus is nonsense and stupid, until someone who has been diagnosed (and is no longer contagious) enters the same room,” she continued. “Then, suddenly, those same people are very good at social distancing and some even start grabbing for a mask.”
“I’m not hurt by this; in fact, it makes me happy to see people take it serious when push comes to shove,” Dr. Gilbert added. “We need to treat everyone we see as if they have Covid. We do not need to be rude to anyone or hide away in fear, but we do need to assume that anyone we see could be a carrier and, more importantly, we need to assume that we ourselves could be a carrier and do anything we can to protect our fellow Scott Countians.”
In closing, we should all be reminded: Wearing a mask isn’t about protecting ourselves so much as it is about protecting those around us. “If your mask is effective I don’t need to wear one” isn’t a valid argument for not wearing one, because — as so many, including Mountain People’s Health Councils here in our own community, have said: “My mask protects you, your mask protects me.” It only works if we all participate.
Other parts of the state are realizing this to be true. Nashville has seen a significant decline in its number of active places. Rutherford County is seeing a decline in its number of active cases. Hamilton County is seeing a decline in its number of active cases. Memphis and Knoxville are seeing the spread of their cases slow. All of those places just happen to have mask mandates in place. They didn’t see improvements overnight, but after two to three weeks, the improvements began to become apparent.
So much has been said about a return to normal. There’s no reason we can’t return to normal, at least relatively speaking. We can go to church. We can go out to eat. We can send our kids back to school. We can have high school sports.
But only if we get serious about masking up. If we don’t, it might be only a matter of time before we can’t do any of those things — with churches once again holding only online services, restaurants once again limited to take-out orders, schools once again closed and sports once again suspended. Our rising numbers will see to that.
Let’s take Dr. Gilbert’s advice. Let’s humble ourselves, and protect each other. And, together, we’ll beat this menace that we call Covid-19.
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