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Letter to the Editor: Physicians on COVID-19

Dear Editor and Residents of Johnson County,

As physicians who have worked in this county for 25 years, we feel a great responsibility for your health and welfare. We write today to make sure you are aware of the status of COVID-19 in our county.

As of July 4th, 2020, we have 44 confirmed cases with 15 active and no deaths according to the TN Department of Health website dashboard. Eight days prior to this (June 26, 2020), we had 30 confirmed cases, so we have seen a 50% increase since then. Our concern is that this could be the beginning of a surge for our community. Although these numbers do not seem large, when the rate per 100,000 people is calculated, Johnson County is between 7-8 cases per 100,000 people (by comparison, Carter County with 56 cases has a rate of 2 cases per 100,000).So now more than ever, we need to be careful to limit the spread of this deadly virus. These are all things we have heard before, but as we grow weary of caution, we have let our guard down. Please review these measures to slow the virus down and take them to heart:

1. Stay at home as much as possible. It is fine and good to go outdoors and as long as you are only amongst your household members, you do not need to wear a mask. When you do go out to shop or are exposed to others outside of your family, wear a cloth mask and be sure it covers your mouth and nose. This is the most important and effective way we have to mitigate the spread of the virus in our community. Note that masks are not appropriate for children, under 2 years of age. If you are not able to wear a mask or feel you cannot wear one, then you should not be out in public.

2. Avoid crowds – especially indoor crowds! Practice physical distancing of 6 feet. If you are not able to give or get that distance, then it is too crowded and you ought to leave. If you want food from a restaurant, choose take out.

3. Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds. When you cough or sneeze, cover it with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Throw the tissue away and wash your hands for 20 seconds. Up to now, we have been fortunate in Johnson County, and we know that everyone is tired of dealing with this threat. For us as physicians, and for all the health care workers we know, fatigue is an ever-present problem. We must carry on, though, to protect each other and especially our family and friends who are 65 and older. Our greatest fear is that the virus could get into the nursing home where our most vulnerable residents live. Nursing home deaths account for over 40% of all COVID-19 deaths in the US.

Another concern of ours has to do with how we can safely exercise our faith. As Christians, we long to be with fellow believers and share in corporate worship. Our church has chosen to meet virtually through Zoom. Other churches are gathering in their parking lots in cars or on their church grounds to maintain physical distance. Some churches are gathering in their sanctuaries, some requiring masks and others not. Although we understand the desire to gather, gatherings of 25 people or more in a confined space for 30 minutes or more are the most dangerous situations and have the potential to cause super spreading of the virus. To make matters worse, singing is the most efficient way to spread the virus because, by nature, the act of singing creates more droplets to spread the virus than any other activity. This fact hits us especially hard because we have always sung in church choirs, and singing is such an important part of worship.   

So knowing the danger that singing presents at this time of pandemic, we have not sung in public since February. Instead, we sing at home and participate in virtual choir.

In order to protect each other we have to make sacrifices and come up with creative ways of doing the things that are important to us. Please join us in loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Sincerely,  James Shine, MD and Susanne Shine, MD