Stay-at-home orders may lift, but the threat persists

By  and , Guest Columnist Updated: April 23, 2020 7:47 PM CT | Published: April 23, 2020 3:29 PM CT
Scott Strome
Guest Columnist

Scott Strome

Dr. Scott Strome is the Robert Kaplan Executive Dean of the College of Medicine and vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Jon McCullers
Guest Columnist

Jon McCullers

Dr. Jon McCullers is the senior associate dean for clinical affairs for the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and pediatrician in chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

The state of Tennessee will soon lift the stay-at-home orders put in place in response to COVID-19. This action leaves Tennesseans with important choices to make for themselves and their communities.

Even in areas where restrictions are eased, it is too soon to return to normal.

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We do not yet have any proven therapies or vaccines to combat the spread of COVID-19 or its deadly consequences. The virus does not respect county or state lines, so that decisions made in one municipality will influence others. It is also impossible to test everyone any time soon, and the impact of any action we take in terms of reopening will not be observed for many weeks.

<strong>Jon McCullers</strong>

Jon McCullers

How can we collectively move forward in a responsible manner? The lifting of a stay-in-place order is not the same as an order saying, “you must go out.”

Even in areas where restrictions are liberalized, it is incumbent upon all of us to appreciate that the threat persists. We should therefore maintain good social hygiene practices, highlighted by distancing, the wearing of masks where appropriate, avoidance of large gatherings, and hand-washing with soap and water. Such socially conscious choices will protect us all.

Some people will exercise their right to “return to normal.” Some may feel they must make this choice out of understandable financial desperation. Other essential employees may make similar choices in the interest of the public good.

Unfortunately, people who make these dangerous choices must accept that they will get sick at higher rates than people who practice stringent “social hygiene.” The ripple effects of these infections will spread to their families, friends, neighbors and even strangers.

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In Memphis, unprecedented collaborations between academic medical centers, like the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, city and county governments, and large hospital systems are driving data-centric approaches to COVID-19 policies. These approaches are tiered in nature and allow for a return to more restrictive measures if necessary. Their success will depend on the willingness of people to adhere to these public safety measures.

<strong>Scott Strome</strong>

Scott Strome

A true return to pre-COVID-19 life in Memphis will likely not occur without either a vaccine or the development of herd immunity.

World champion boxer Mike Tyson was famously quoted as saying, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Using a similar analogy, it is relatively easy to challenge the value of COVID-19 prevention strategies, until you or a family member becomes sick. Indeed, in all my years as a physician, I have never met an otherwise healthy person who did not want help when they could not breathe.

We, as citizens of this state, have one drug to combat COVID-19 — a drug called “social hygiene.” As we liberalize restrictions in our state, please continue to use this drug effectively and afford all citizens in our state — particularly the most vulnerable among us — with the right to take their next breath.


COVID-19 University of Tennessee Health Science Center


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