Editorial: Listen to the pros, not politicians and pundits 

Editorial Board • Mar 31, 2020 at 9:00 PM

Amateur epidemiologists are dangerously plentiful during this pandemic. Everyone from high-ranking politicians to local TV anchors suddenly are public health professionals. The egocentric rush to appear on top of things is clouding judgment.

More than enough uncertainty exists in the novel coronavirus situation without would-be experts confusing the concerns. Anyone who issues a personal forecast about the spread of COVID-19 without an advanced medical or health degree in hand is an irresponsible narcissist. The sheer audacity astounds.

So tune them out.

Focus your eyes and ears on the people who have the credentials to back up what they present.

They include professionals like Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist who for 36 years has been the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci knows plenty about pandemics, having been on the front lines of the battle against HIV/AIDS. He accurately predicted that the U.S. would have to shift from a containment strategy to mitigating the spread of COVID-19. His advice has been clear from the outset of the outbreak: restricting travel, social distancing, hand washing, isolating sick people, closing schools and “telecommuting” — working from home via electronic means — where possible.

Unfortunately, many of us — both personally and politically — have been too slow to heed that advice, and COVID-19 continues to spread. Some have placed priority on the immediate financial consequences over the long-term effects the virus would have on both the health and economic welfare of society.

Dr. William Block, dean of East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine, is among those who believe both the state of Tennessee and local governments need a more aggressive approach toward flattening the curve on COVID-19. Block told Johnson City Press Staff Writer Jonathan Roberts on Wednesday that a “safer-at-home” order should be in place for non-essential aspects of life. The essentials include obtaining medicine, seeing a doctor, obtaining groceries and necessities, and caring for family members or other vulnerable people.

Essential businesses and agencies are infrastructure-related — health care, banking, food supply, gas stations, pharmacies, etc.

To their credit, many local businesses took action well ahead of the state. Well before Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order closing gyms and restricting restaurant services last Sunday, many local establishments had already done so. They either closed or found alternative ways to serve customers. Many organizations allowed employees to work from home and implemented social distancing measures. A number of area churches also canceled services or provided them exclusively online. East Tennessee State University largely cleared the campus and shifted to online classes.

With or without government orders, other non-essential businesses and offices likely are facing internal and external pressure to follow suit. Those who do not could be placing all of society at risk.

While Northeast Tennessee has not experienced the widespread impact seen in such places as New York and California, new cases are emerging each day. We cannot afford to be a COVID-19 hotspot.

The sooner we follow the advice in all aspects of personal and professional life, the sooner we can get past this dilemma and restore our world to normalcy.

At least that’s what the pros tell us.

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