This article appeared in the Daily Post-Athenian on May 20, 2020
Join the first virtual Civic Saturday, May 23 @10am. A link to the livestream can be found at friendlycityforward.com.
On Monday, I taught my first YMCA fitness class in two months.
A small group of us gathered under the pavilion behind the main building and set up our brought-from-home mats, weights and water bottles.
It was a beautiful morning, brimming with mist and silvery dew. A possum observed our curls and lunges from a safe distance. We worked hard together, six feet apart, for 45 minutes and it felt sort of like summer camp.
I wondered, in this time of COVID-19, is exercising outside an acceptable risk?
A few nights ago, I sat around a campfire with my girlfriends. I brought my own drink and chair and again observed the six-feet rule. It felt good to be with my people, under the stars, but again I wondered, is this an acceptable risk?
My daughters walked into a store with me last weekend with firm instructions to keep their hands behind their backs and masks on.
It was the first time since March they’d come with me to the store. We sanitized our hands as soon as we reached the car. Is this an acceptable risk?
The State of Tennessee rescinded the stay-at-home order at the end of April, just as we saw a significant uptick of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. Every day since I’ve questioned the realities of the world outside my front door.
This virus is something we can’t hear, smell, or see, and yet, it is the container for our lives. It is an invisible threat that dictates the passage of our days and exhausts our mental capacities with its constant demand for risk management.
In this uncertain time, I grasp for certainty moment to moment: Should I make that trip to the store? Should I take that walk with friends in the park? Is it safe to “picnic” with my neighbors?
To be clear, these decisions are fraught because the stakes are so very high. We have real numbers, real deaths and real stories of tragedy to contend with every day: Family members dying alone. Otherwise healthy people losing arms and legs to blood clots. Asymptomatic carriers spreading it to their families and households.
Just now, we are learning that children are, in fact, susceptible to horrible symptoms, while several months ago it appeared to spare the youngest among us.
It’s also clear that geography plays a role in infection rates and severity of symptoms. The South in particular is poised for a terrible collision between COVID-19 and populations with chronic health issues, as well as increased rates of transmission in high-density workplaces like factories and plants.
In states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, the threat of outbreak is daunting for healthcare facilities.
Simultaneously, we’re contending with sloppy and snarky theories and justifications that push back on the reality: comparing COVID-19 to the flu, pitting the economy against public health, politicizing face masks and spreading pseudo-scientific concepts, all in an effort to simplify what is in fact, horrifically complicated.
We can’t deny this virus into oblivion and we can’t ignore emerging facts, but we also can’t live half-lives forever, so we have to find sustainable ways of living with the complexity. According to trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control and the Tennessee Department of Health, we are many months — maybe years — away from a vaccine. And as we wait for salvation, we have to find ways to keep living, loving and connecting while mitigating risk and reducing harm.
Maybe the highest calling in this moment is figuring out how to walk that line as a member of community. What does it mean to be an engaged citizen in this time of COVID-19? What does responsibility look like? Generosity and connection? What does love look like in this time?
If you find yourself wanting to talk more about this complexity and how we keep moving forward, then I hope you’ll join the virtual Civic Saturday this weekend on May 23 from 10-11 a.m.
Hosted by the Athens Thrive Team and the Athens Recovery Team, this hour-long event features a roundtable of local leaders: The Rev. David Graybeal of Keith United Methodist Church; Lisa Dotson of Main Street Athens; C. Seth Sumner, city manager of Athens; and Dr. Bill Bowers, local physician.
It sounds like the preamble to a joke: A pastor, a small business advocate, a city manager and a doctor gather to discuss healthy and helpful ways to lean into this moment.