After Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that Tennessee would begin a phased re-engagement of our economy beginning in May, you would have thought my Thursday morning drive was a normal weekday morning commute into Nashville.
My wife and I left the house at 6 a.m. to get to the hospital for an appointment. That ETD was actually an “old normal” time to allow for any unanticipated traffic issues that could happen even in the “new normal” of statewide safer-at-home restrictions.
We had noticed on Tuesday when we had other doctor appointments that traffic had picked up significantly and we attributed it to the governor’s announcement the day before. This assumption was, of course, without evidence, after all no one lets facts get in the way of a strong opinion anymore, right!
After experiencing a completely pre-March traffic jam around Trinity Road in Nashville, and this was at 6:30 a.m., I knew that Tennesseans were in the process of abandoning the strictures.
After dropping my wife off at the hospital for her appointments, I looked at the most recent report from Unacast, which has been compiling cellphone tracking data to understand how Americans are responding to social distancing restrictions.
Our anecdotal observation was supported by the latest report, though the data is only through Sunday. The report shows that Tennessee continues to be one of the worst states at honoring government requests and orders to stay at home and limit travel to essential trips. (Nashville and Williamson County remain better than most other counties, but folks here appear to have gotten worse at social distancing in the past week.)
Our experience tracks with what we’ve been hearing from friends. As one of my wife’s friends said, “The aisles at Walmart are as crowded as I’ve ever seen them.” I would not know about that. I went into a Walmart once 16 years ago, and I am still traumatized by the experience.
But those of us who have been making the family runs to the grocery store I am sure have noticed an interesting mix of behavior.
Again, this is anecdotal, I would say that less than half of the shoppers I see at our local Publix wear a mask, and virtually none of them pay attention to the somewhat half-hearted attempts of the store to make each aisle a one-way street. I am not generally a good rule follower, but I confess a growing frustration with the cavalier manner many of my neighbors have toward the rest of us. It has fueled my doubts that the governor’s hopes of reopening will do anything but stoke a new, likely worse, round of infections. I hope I am wrong.
What is the right way to reopen?
Like everyone who runs a small business, I am anxious to get the office reopened and back to a semblance of “old normal.” Our staffs have done an excellent job working from home — many of staff already did that as their “old normal” anyway — and I am sure we will continue some blended WFH/WFO work culture for a long time at FW Publishing. When I came to the office to wait for the nurse to let me know I could come back to the hospital I sure did miss the vibe and energy that our office in the Gulch seems to always have.
We have been planning for the time we can reopen. We scheduled a disinfecting cleanse, and ordered sanitizer, masks and wipes to make a kit for each staff member. We will begin a phased reopening of the office as soon as we can, but we are hesitant to have our whole contingent back without the ability to regularly test for the virus and, better yet, know when folks have the anti-bodies.
But I feel like we are flying by the seat of our pants with these plans — well that, at least, is very “old normal” behavior for me.
And if you got this far, thanks for reading this column, and thanks for reading the work done by our staffs at the Williamson Home Page, Nashville Scene, Nashville Post, and Nfocus Magazine; as fortunate as we are to have readers like you, I know that I am fortunate to work with a lot of very dedicated folks.
Frank Daniels, a 2012 inductee of the NC Journalism Hall of Fame, is president of FW Publishing, the parent company of HomePage Media Group, Nashville Scene, Nashville Post, and Nfocus Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.