A volatile 2020 is rapidly drawing to a close, perhaps to our collective relief. Everyday acts of heroism and resilience have become inspiringly commonplace. But a succession of social and political challenges, coupled with the upheavals of the COVID-19 pandemic, have made us all feel like endurance runners on an endless trail of abrupt turns.
Week after week, we sat on the edges of our seats waiting for the all-clear, desperate for “normal” to recommence. We are all eagerly awaiting a safe and effective vaccine, and even with promising early reports, we are still months away from scientists’ tireless work coming to fruition.
We’ve been forced to reckon with countless hard truths this year. And as cases continue to trend upward, there is no alternative but to face another: this pandemic is not over.
Now more than ever, the outcome of the weeks and months that follow is in our hands as a community, based in large part on our personal and collective choices.
As the chief executives of the Mid-South’s largest healthcare systems, we speak on behalf of our patients and staff in saying these choices will determine our facilities’ ability to cope with the convergence of the seasonal flu and rapidly rising cases of COVID-19. We say this in solidarity with clinical leaders across the region.
Unlike when we started this journey, there’s no question about measures that are effective in combatting the spread of the virus. We now know what works. Washing our hands, wearing masks and practicing social distancing are tools at everyone’s disposal, empowering us to bring down caseloads, ease suffering and even save lives.
We understand that these feel like big “asks” especially as the pandemic has persisted longer than any of us anticipated. But, we’ve done it before. In early summer, when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spiked, Tennessee as a whole readily shifted to widespread mask-wearing and social distancing. As a result, new cases declined 56 percent, and hospitalizations fell by 38 percent in just six weeks.
If we do this, we can also keep our economy in Memphis open and running well. We can protect all people, and keep them active in their livelihoods so they can provide for their families. This is a community goal, where we can help each other combat the virus while safeguarding the welfare of our citizens. Everyone should be able to get behind that goal, regardless of background and political affiliation.
New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern famously called her fellow citizens the “team of five million,” united in facing and stopping the spread of a dangerous pandemic. We think the same of our community. If we are all truly looking out for one another, there is strength in numbers, and in this moment, your team members need you.
We know you’re tired. But, we cannot give up. We want you to know that we are still here for you and will never back down from our mission of keeping you safe and healthy. But, we need you to do your part to slow the virus and help our hospitals meet this moment.
The doctors, nurses and support staff at our hospitals, who undertake great personal risk on the frontlines of the pandemic response, need you. Vulnerable family, friends and neighbors, who may be elderly or suffer from chronic conditions, need you.
Our local economy also needs you. If case levels slip far out of our control, we can expect a repeated cycle of opening and closing that will further damage many industries and businesses, and permanently close others. The small, local businesses that are the backbone of our economy are likely to be affected disproportionately.
Together, we can beat this, but only if we each do our part to ensure everyone is safe. We must remind ourselves of our individual and collective power and continue forward. The finish line is just around the corner — but the virus wins if we give up.