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No one is coming to save us.

Not Nashville. Not Washington.

We are on our own.

Want to flatten the curve? Want to save actual lives as well as the economic life of Chattanooga?

We must do it ourselves.

So far, early volunteer efforts to fight COVID-19 have been glorious, but mostly individualized. Good Samaritans feeding families. Teachers 3D-printing face masks. Pizza parlors handing out free slices.

Again, glorious and lionhearted, but small scaled.

But you don't win a war this way.

You win with strategy. We have soldiers; we need generals.

We need vision.

We need scale.

For weeks, I assumed such scale and vision would come from our elected and medical leaders.

I no longer have that assumption.

This is the most frightening of times for your citizens. Speak to us. Daily. Pray with us. Inform us. Daily. Level with us. Daily. Why don't we have enough tests? What is your 30-day plan? How will you know when to end our lockdown?

Is there a proactive, dynamic, visionary plan for getting Hamilton County COVID-19 free?

If so, unveil it. Shout about it. Ask for help with it.

If not, then the rest of us must create our own. Do not ask for permission. Just do it.

Chattanooga, let's remember who we are.

More Info

Donations and orders for Ready Set Sew can be placed at 423-629-6411 or shop.readysetsewtn.com; donations and orders for Aprons4U can be placed at 423-355-7217 or Imakeaprons@gmail.com.

 

Before this coronavirus, Chattanooga was Gig City. A Smart City, data-loving city.

How can we harness this data intelligence now? I believe that our Smart City women and men can create some application that models, predicts, tracks and informs the general public about COVID-19 in realistic, real-time and effective ways.

We have the world's fastest internet. How can we use it in this fight? (A city known for its innovation only has one drive-thru testing center? We're just now forming a task force?)

For all our talk of transparency, there is an aching amount of secrecy.

"I've got parishioners with COVID-19. They weren't tested but told they have COVID-19," said Dr. Clay Thomas, pastor at Rivermont Presbyterian. "To my knowledge no one has backtracked with my parishioner's contacts. The same is true for three other friends in Hamilton County."

How can this happen in Gig City? It's maddening, yet also solvable. There are smart people here who could fix this by lunchtime. How do we enlist them in the fight?

Even if we are short on testing, we can still test in smart ways.

"Random sampling," posted Tim Kelly, owner of Kelly Subaru and Chattanooga Football Club co-founder. "Rather than test hospital patients we already know have COVID-19 ... why not take the next few hundred tests and give them to a random sample of the population [making sure each age range is represented]?"

Then, Smart City people can use that data to gain a wider understanding of who is infected and who isn't. Then, data becomes knowledge; knowledge becomes strategy.

"With intention and precision," Kelly wrote.

Hospital leadership? Why are you so cursedly quiet? Why do we have so few tests? Are all local hospitals using Baylor School's lab, which can test at an exponentially higher rate?

If not, why aren't you?

Hamilton Health Care Systems? How dare you tell your staff not to wear their own masks?

Before this coronavirus, we were a city of medical gravitas, attracting people near and far. So let's put out a new call: create a volunteer army of local, retired medical workers, nurses and physicians.

Somebody beg Dr. Clint Smith, assistant professor of biology at Sewanee University, to join our fight. His expertise? Coronaviruses.

He's 45 minutes away. Triple his Sewanee salary and enlist him for the spring and summer: help us quadruple our testing.

Before this coronavirus, Chattanooga celebrated and funded start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Now is the time to do that again.

An example? Two women — Melanie Coakley of Ready Set Sew and Martina Alford of Aprons4U — are working heroically, sewing masks for Chattanoogans. (Coakley's masks are being used by hospital personnel. Alford actually has a full-time job; she and her 13-year old daughter — thank you, Tarina — sew during spare, precious hours.)

Find them an unused building, round up all sewing machines in the county, hire 100 other folks to sew.

Give them what they need to reach this goal:

Let's sew a million masks this month.

Economic and business leaders? We need reports from you. Hamilton Flourishing? Produce a report on the economic loss of staying shuttered and locked down through May. Or July.

It isn't heartless; it's smart. We can't feel or emote our way into deciding when to reopen downtown; we need number and figures in order to make a calculated decision. At some point, leaders will choose saving our economy over saving a certain amount of lives.

We need data to decide that.

Millennials? Outdoor, Best-City-Ever folks? You are gutsy, creative and adventurous in ways the rest of us aren't. We need you; tap into that spirit and build solutions that the rest of us can't see yet.

Anybody, everybody, now is your time. If you are intelligent, driven, creative, visionary and mover-shaker influential, we need you to solve two essential problems:

How can increase our response to COVID-19?

How can we increase our economy while doing so?

Because no one is coming to answer those questions for us.

Chattanooga — this city full of fiercely loving, remarkably intelligent, bravely creative and big-minded, problem-solving people — must save itself.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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David Cook
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