Sohn: Coronavirus is making itself felt now in the Chattanooga area

Dr. Paul Hendricks, Health Officer for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus (COVID-19) as Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger stands behind him at the McDaniel Building on Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. / Staff photo by Troy Stolt

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On the same day Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency to step up Tennessee's response to the COVID-19, the number of Volunteer State cases doubled from nine to 18. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp announced the first virus death in his state and said cases there exceed 30. Simultaneously, scores of area events and classes were canceled.

In a Hamilton County news conference Thursday afternoon, officials announced there still were no known cases here, but two people who recently visited Italy are being monitored. They have no symptoms, officials said.

It is inevitable that the illness eventually will touch our city, county and region. It is also inevitable that we will work toward the best outcome. Already our officials and work leaders are planning and taking action to lessen the spread of illness.

Hamilton County schools will close for two weeks beginning Monday. In-person college classes are suspended, moving instead to online sessions, at UTC, Southern Adventist University in Collegedale and Lee University in Cleveland.

Youth sports games are being scaled down or put on hold, and convention cancellations are pouring in to the Chattanooga Trade and Convention Center, leaving Mike Shuford, the center's director, wondering if he can keep the 55 full-time workers and 30 extras on the clock.

"We can probably float for two weeks," Shuford told the Times Free Press on Thursday. "Our expenses don't really change. The power bill comes in, the insurance bill comes in. Those don't stop because you've got no business."

(MORE: Chattanooga area cancellations due to coronavirus fears)

Certainly there are many more employers in the region with the same worries. And workers are undoubtedly torn between wringing their hands over the prospect of missed paydays or the fear of illness.

We are fortunate to have thoughtful and proactive community leaders, and the Chattanooga Times Free Press will pitch in as well to provide free online access to all of the paper's coronavirus news.

Together we'll get through this.

(Read more coronavirus coverage here)