Only six of the state’s 95 counties have their own health department, and Sullivan is among them. Those other 89 counties will take direction on what happens long distance from Nashville. Sullivan will have full, immediate and informed control over the step-by-step process. That’s critical in making what literally could be life-and-death decisions.
Steering us through these uncertain waters will be capable and experienced hands at the helm, including County Mayor Richard Venable, Regional Health Department Director Gary Mayes and Medical Director Dr. Stephen May. They, in consort with other local elected officials and leaders, will develop a plan specific to Sullivan County.
There is trepidation among elderly folks we know about reopening the local economy. Their worries are somewhat justified simply due to the unknowns. There is little question that as county residents go back to work, stores reopen and people return as much as possible to their pre-pandemic comings and goings, the rate of infection will increase.
In turn, that will increase the risk to the elderly and those with underlying conditions as they attempt to go about their business. They can, and should, elect to continue to shelter in place for an extended period, a difficult decision to be sure. It won’t take long before we see the health impacts — positive or negative — that relaxing stay-at-home rules will have on COVID-19 infections.
Once that impact becomes evident, those at risk can begin to gauge their own comfort levels regarding their living situation. Americans, particularly the elderly who have experience with hardship, are tough as nails, and they will deal with whatever they are required to.
But they will need help.
As America returns to business as usual, it is imperative that we safeguard ourselves and others throughout this process. As we have said previously in this space, you should not enter the public arena without a mask. Without one, you are at greater risk of catching COVID-19 and you are putting others at greater risk if you already have it and don’t know it.
Without doubt, the reopening plan for Sullivan County will include social distancing. Masks don’t offer full protection, not even the N95 masks. At least until there is a vaccine, get no closer to others than 6 feet at minimum, more if possible. Do not hug or shake hands with old friends. Even an elbow bump is risky. We recommend a simple nod of the head or a slight bow.
Keep a bottle of sanitizer with you and use it. The CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Even up to 90 percent alcohol is preferable to ensure that hand sanitizer completely kills germs rather than just reducing their growth on your hands.
And wash your hands with soap and hot water. Frequently.
If we all work together, and for each other, our local return to normalcy will be all the quicker and safer.