Calkins: Want to run a 5K? Go to the beach? Expert says how — and when — you can resume activities

By , Daily Memphian Updated: June 12, 2020 6:58 AM CT | Published: June 11, 2020 6:18 PM CT

Wondering when you can run a 5K again? How about going to the movies or the beach? Will the current protests cause a spike in COVID-19? I asked Jon McCullers — the pediatrician-in-chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and an associate dean at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center — who is on the city-county task force dealing with coronavirus and chairs a task force on how best to bring students back to the University of Tennessee. Here are quick excerpts from that interview. 

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Q: How concerned should we be about the recent uptick in cases in Shelby County?

A: By and large, it hasn’t been a real significant increase. Our capacity has stayed great, we are seeing mainly these same kind of family clusters, occasionally some workplace clusters, and we’re not seeing the kind of broad-based community transmission which would be the concern.

Q: How should we be thinking about the next few months?

A: We’re really starting to see a pivot in the public discourse, and in what the leadership is going to be looking at going forward, as they are starting to manage this in the long-term chronic state. I think we’re going to quit focusing so much on the numbers in terms of “What’s the daily number of cases and is it going up or is it going down?” which isn’t so important for this juncture and for the next six months or 12 months or however long it is. It really is going to be about those capacity issues, can we manage the pandemic, and then a real focus on the people most at risk.

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Q: Do you worry about the protests being a source of transmission?

A: I think you can look at it through a public health lens and say this is probably going to enhance transmission in the community and maybe some of the increases of the past week are linked to that. If you are in the camp that says any cases are bad, that’s a negative factor. I’ve been on the record as saying that this is a critically important time for our society, and the marches, the protests, the reaction has been a just and a critical thing for us to be doing. And in terms of risk, I don’t see it as being that big a public health risk. At least in Memphis, they were wearing masks. There’s some public health risk, but I think you also balance that with, “This is really important for our society.” And if we have some extra cases for a few weeks, and then the protests stop and the cases go down, that’s not a big deal in my book compared to the importance of righting some of these wrongs and righting some of these issues that we’ve had.

Q: Universities are generally planning to bring students back on campus in the fall. Is there just an acceptance that will cause some disease?

A: At the end, you have to recognize that you’re going to have some disease, you’re going to have some transmission. These are kids at an age when there is a high social contact rate and a lot of the experience in college — and a lot of the learning — is really that social piece of it, that learning outside of the actual classroom by conversations with your peers. It’s something we are going to have to manage, we are going to have to accept some level of risk this year, but it clearly has some value that balances that out. 

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Q: Will people be running 5Ks in Memphis this year?

A: We’ve reviewed an Ironman, that’s the only thing we’ve reviewed so far, in terms of races. There’s a couple issues. One is the gathering before and after. It’s the big congregation before and the big congregation after the race. That’s difficult to control. What we’ve talked about and what we’ve seen is mostly eliminating that and preventing people from congregating before and after. You can do staggered start times because it’s a timed race. It gets a little funny when you start talking about being in the race itself. You want to pass quickly, you don’t want to race right beside somebody, you don’t want to run right behind someone. It kind of becomes, “How reasonable or practical is it?” But I think we can do it, it’s just not going to be the experience that we’re used to.

Q: What do you say about going to the beach? Going to the movies? Going on an airplane?

A: Going to the beach, if you’re going with your family unit, or your household unit, it’s the same as being here in Memphis. You want to social distance, you want to wear a mask in public, you want to have good etiquette when you go into a grocery store or a restaurant or what have you. Being out in the open air, the beach is going to be much lower risk than most other things you could be doing here. I don’t see much problem with that. Movies? I can’t see the movies right now. It’s a closed environment, ventilation can be questionable, you’re sitting close together, it’s two hours, so you’ve got that duration factor. As for planes, it is a higher risk environment than many others and, particularly, if you’re going on a long-duration flight. I think that really ups the risk. But you can take precautions and not touch anything and wear a well-fitting mask and get through it. I think it’s OK if you do it right.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do. 


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Geoff Calkins

Geoff Calkins

Geoff Calkins has been chronicling Memphis and Memphis sports for more than two decades. He is host of "The Geoff Calkins Show" from 9-11 a.m. M-F on 92.9 FM. Calkins has been named the best sports columnist in the country five times by the Associated Press sports editors, but still figures his best columns are about the people who make Memphis what it is.


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