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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger speaks during a press conference in Golley Auditorium at the Hamilton County Health Department on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was announced during the Press conference that the second and third cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in Hamilton County had been confirmed.

May 1 will not only be a reopening.

It will be a sacrifice and gamble, a very big game of Hamilton County roulette.

By ending our shelter-at-home mandate, we walk back into the breach. Coronavirus infections likely will return, making May 1 a collective, even heroic, sacrifice for the greater economic good.

"It's like a beachhead," one friend said. "We know we have to do it. But people are going to die in the process."

Will it be your family or neighbors? Mine?

Here in Hamilton County, we are days away from a human experiment unlike any other, with potentially life-or-death ramifications that could alter — for good or ill — livelihoods for generations.

We face two pandemic responses.

We face two reopenings.

Hamilton County — set for May 1.

Chattanooga — its reopening remains unannounced.

The difference between county Mayor Jim Coppinger and city Mayor Andy Berke's reopening approaches reflect economic, political and philosophical differences.

Whose approach will save lives? Whose plan will save livelihoods?

Coppinger's plan? Let's do what Gov. Bill Lee says. Unable or unwilling to craft a plan locally-specific to our county and our needs, Coppinger is deferring to whatever the governor recommends.

Perhaps it's for the sake of unity. Perhaps it will prove effective in the long run.

Perhaps not.

Coppinger has repeatedly stated his confidence in county residents. He trusts them to do the right thing.

Do you?

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David Cook

For Berke, May 1 is unsafe. He rejected Lee's plan to work instead with Tennessee's other big city mayors and a task force on an alternative reopening plan.

I'd wager Berke's plan — his announcement is painfully overdue— will be more detailed, prescriptive and Chattanooga-centric than Coppinger's.

Trust residents? Sure. But Berke seems to trust government policies more.

Do you?

This leaves the rest of us caught in the middle.

Already stressed and afraid in a most uncertain time, we're now confused. A restaurant in Collegedale can open, but not Main Street. We choose sides. Protests form. COVID-19 becomes political.

Can we be safe, healthy, employed and free — all at once?

We're stuck between Patrick Henry and a pandemic.

I'm frustrated with Coppinger for not inviting our best thinkers to solve this. His pandemic response has seemed generic. The county may have increased its testing, but not its vision.

We're Hamilton County. Not Nashville/Davidson County. I want to know if our county leaders believe everyone should wear a face mask in public. How are our elderly — not Nashville's — protected?

Which county ZIP codes are the most vulnerable?

Is the county listening to its service industry workers? Reopening cannot be an experiment that risks their lives and health.

Nationally, this virus has sickened African-Americans at a higher rate than whites; are white county leaders considering the racial consequences of reopening?

"We must object, we do dissent," declared the Unity Group's Eric Atkins and Sherman Matthews. "This action will have damning and detrimental consequences on a community already suffering and ravaged."

Berke? I'm frustrated with his silence. He's supposed to be a man of the people — the Springsteen mayor — yet people are clamoring for some kind of plan, timeline, fireside chat, anything.

"Mr. Mayor, please announce a reopening plan and timeline," wrote Hunter Hughes, a local business owner, in a letter to Berke. "Our family's livelihood is being threatened by, first, a virus, second, a lockdown and third, a mayor with no plans to reopen our community."

Coronavirus is teaching us that we are, like the TV show, essentially naked and afraid. We control so little. We desire so much.

Ultimately, we're left with one thing:

Our attitude. Our response.

During this virus, I've seen good people turn great and great people become heroes. Courage, selflessness, love — they abound right now.

Maybe Coppinger's correct: County residents will do what's right. You know, our better angels. Our volunteer spirit.

Yet, I've also seen foolish and selfish people grow even more so. Who will protect us from them? Maybe Berke's right: with science as our road map, government policies will save us. After all, our better angels can still get sick.

It's possible that somehow, both mayoral strategies will inadvertently and miraculously wed together in some harmonized best-of-both worlds result.

It's also possible that, come June, the nightmare will return.

We're about to find out.

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

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