Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Baylor teacher Dr. Elizabeth Forrester, stands in her lab area in Baylor School on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Last Friday Dr. Forrester and her teaching colleague Dr. Dawn Richards were able to confirm that with Baylor's Schools lab equipment, they would be able to run tests to determine whether or not someone has coronavirus.

Did we just save 3,000 lives?

Weeks ago, the University of Washington predicted some 3,400 COVID-19 deaths in Tennessee by early August.

Then, at the urging of physicians across the state, Gov. Bill Lee instituted his shelter-at-home directive.

Now, the university's latest predictions? Fewer than 600 Tennessee deaths by August.

Staying home matters. Profoundly.

We're not out of the woods yet, but we aren't New York City, either. Are we self-quarantining our way out of a Chattanooga nightmare?

This morning, there are more questions than answers.

Why has Erlanger Health System been so slow to use Baylor School's COVID-19 testing lab?

The lab, which can process tests within hours, has been open for more than two weeks.

As of Thursday, CHI Memorial, Hamilton County Health Department (which partnered with Baylor), Parkridge Medical Center and Rhea Medical Center have been sending test samples to Baylor, according to Barbara Kennedy, Baylor's director of external affairs.

But not Erlanger, Kennedy said.

Why wouldn't Erlanger participate from the get-go? Theories abound.

A source close to hospital decision-making said Erlanger was already using another lab; there was no intentional decision to avoid Baylor's lab.

"Erlanger will start using the Baylor lab for our outpatient testing on Monday," announced Pat Charles, hospital spokeswoman, late Friday.


We need more testing. Which gives us knowledge, which leads to strategy.

We also must create a plan to reopen Chattanooga. People die from the coronavirus, but livelihoods, small businesses and paychecks are dying, too.

Preventing both types of deaths requires an articulated vision.

Proactive, war-time leadership.

And data.

Does such a plan exist?

"We do not have a plan for what's next," Dr. Allen Coffman of Highland Pediatrics said.

Coffman is a decorated, beloved physician widely known for his work improving pediatric care. When he speaks, I listen.

"There is no logistics plan," he said. "There is no coherent plan to work forward on increasing testing. There is no stated goal. It is an uncoordinated mishmash."

He's not even sure who's in charge.

"The community needs clear guidance everyday on what to do and an educated guess everyday about how long we are doing this and what is next," he said. "We are asking our population to sit and do nothing while their health, livelihood, children's education, ability to provide wither away — that is how violence starts — when people get desperate and don't have hope."

Coffman's recent Facebook post — on Highland Pediatric Clinic's page — is one of the best local analyses I've read.

This is a marathon, he said, not a sprint.

The coming days are crucial.

Stay home.

We have a medical COVID-19 Task Force. Can we create a Reopen Chattanooga Task Force?

County Mayor Jim Coppinger needs to appoint a task force of local business leaders, doers and thinkers united around one goal:

Create a business strategy on how to reopen our county.

Let this task force formulate innovative ways to stop the economic bleeding, then build the bridge between today and tomorrow.

"That's the task force that, if empowered, could propel our recovery," Weston Wamp said.

Wamp and I swapped ideas on the Big Plans needed now. (This task force? That was his.) We daydreamed our own list of brilliant Chattanoogans.

Think of yours. You quickly realize:

They are the ones we need right now.

How are doctors and nurses?

"They have reduced us all to statistics and figures and productivity," one local doctor said. "They have dehumanized us more than the virus."

She's a physician for Erlanger; she said doctors are concerned over safety and low morale. Afraid of hospital leadership, she asked to remain nameless.

After this COVID-19 crisis, she said, there's another one coming.

"The crisis of burned-out, pissed-off Erlanger physicians," she said.

Two weeks ago, Erlanger leadership began announcing temporary cuts. Now, the front-line people saving us from the largest public health crisis in a century are now enduring their own crisis.

"If you are forced to quarantine and don't have 14 days [paid-time-off]," she said, "you don't get paid."

Yes, cost-cutting measures are understandable.

"It's not about the pay, though," she said. "It's about the value they've placed on us."

How are our restaurant workers?

"There are restaurants struggling to stay open, and they are doing it off the backs of some of the lowest paid folks in the city," one local restaurant manager said.

Afraid of being fired, he asked for anonymity.

"Hours have been cut to a point that hourly employees that are still employed can't afford basic living expenses," he said.

We built our tourism economy through the labor of service industry workers. Without them — just like health care providers — Chattanooga can't function.

"Folks in our industry are hurting and being forgotten," he said.

One final question.

How are you?

We are all suffering right now. Nobody's immune.

Yet, there's also a radiant stillness in this shutdown. A quiet. I hear more spring birds than ever before. So many loving people are loving others.

Thursday, a friend mentioned Anne Frank.

"I don't think of all the misery," Frank wrote, "but of the beauty that still remains."

Misery and beauty. Can we hold both?

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at