Unless Gov. Bill Lee changes his mind, Tennesseans will be free Tuesday to go about their daily activities regardless of danger to themselves or other people — even as we know many have contracted the COVID-19 virus that has claimed the lives of more than 100 in the state since early March.

The governor should extend his executive order to ensure that “Tennesseans stay home unless they are carrying out essential activities,” at least until the end of April. It is an order that no one likes, that carries huge costs, but it is the right call so that our health care system is not overwhelmed and that the long term impact of this crisis has a chance to be mitigated.

Update: Monday afternoon, the governor announced the ban on non-essential activities would be extended through the end of April.

“Half measures avail us nothing”

If you know someone in recovery, you know the mantra, “half measures avail us nothing.” It is straight to the point of what consequences await a decision to lift restrictions on social interaction too soon in this crisis.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and HCA Healthcare, who have been tracking the impact of various policy decisions on the course and scope of this pandemic in Tennessee, say the safer-at-home order is working to slow down the spread of the virus, and the order should remain in place to prevent a spike in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals and health care system.

The growing number of stories about how nursing homes in Tennessee have been impacted even as they think proper measures have been taken to protect residents illustrates how quickly a situation can get out of hand.

Tennessee should not be known as a state that did too little, too late, and then was too early to declare “mission accomplished.”

The governor implemented his executive order when it became clear that Tennesseans who saw the virus as something that happened to other folks, especially those folks in the big cities, were not going to take serious precautions to protect the people around them. A decision to lift his ban on non-essential trips away from home would undermine the progress made since, which researchers indicated “flattened the curve” of cases, hospitalizations, and, hopefully, deaths of Tennesseans infected with the virus.

Before the executive order, public health models saw a peak in cases sometime this week and that would overwhelm our health care system. With the order in place across the state, and not just in Tennessee’s bigger cities, the peak number of COVID-19 cases was significantly reduced and was pushed out into May or June, which allows the health care system to take care of patients in existing intensive care units with the supply of medical equipment available.

Why would we abandon a plan that works?

When will customers return?

The argument to end the stay-at-home order is that we’ve got to get Tennesseans back to work.

Yes, we do. But when?

"We can't take shortcuts," said Heather Boushey, CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and former economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, as quoted in an article in The Tennessean. "As long as people can still get sick in places of business or in their workplaces, and so long as our health system is being overtaxed because there are just too many cases, we're not going to be able to get the economy functioning back the way we would like it to. It simply won't be possible."

Boushey, who was joined on a conference call with lawmakers by Tennessee Small Business Alliance Director Lenda Sherrell and Franklin-area Pulmonary Specialist Aaron Milstone, said the best way to avoid a deep recession is to resist the urge to reopen businesses and extend social distancing mandates until the pandemic subsides.

Boushey and other economic experts say that the consequences of a “second wave” of the pandemic would be more devastating than extending current distancing protocols. In other words, it is like taking antibiotics — take them all, even after you feel better, or you’ll get sick again and it will be worse.

The trouble with predictions

“I was not predicting the future, I was trying to prevent it,” said science fiction author Ray Bradbury about his popular novel Fahrenheit 451.

Bradbury later said that — contrary to popular criticism — he was not warning about the dangers of censorship. Rather he was illustrating the dangers of a future where society had succumbed to the opiate of television and technology, a future where people were so busy in their technology that they had no time to think, and the word “intellectual” was a pejorative.

Clearly, he failed to prevent that future.

But in this future he failed to prevent, we should listen to the “intellectuals,” to those who have put the “blood, sweat and tears” into understanding how this pandemic can be mitigated. That, or we can cheer the burning of books.

Frank Daniels, a 2012 inductee of the NC Journalism Hall of Fame, is president of FW Publishing, the parent company of Home Page Media Group, Nashville Scene, Nashville Post and Nfocus Magazine. He can be reached at fdanielsiii@fwpublishing.com.

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