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Staff File Photo By C.B. Schmelter / As coronavirus restrictions are lifted on the size of crowds in venues, such as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium, people should stick to the safety precautions they've come to practice over the past six months.

If most people are like we are, they'd like to take their face masks and bury them six feet deep, burn them in a bonfire or plunk them into the nearest trash can.

One day we'll be able to do that.

But not yet.

We're afraid the county's decision this week to lift restrictions on businesses and gatherings in response to the coronavirus pandemic will convince people that we're all but out of the woods.

We're not, and it might be many months before we are.

On Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, through Executive Order 63, lifted restrictions on 89 of the state's 95 counties. Decisions in the other six larger counties were left to county officials.

On Wednesday, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said we would follow the governor's lead.

"We are going in the right direction," he said, "and we don't want to have any setbacks."

Setbacks that result from increased capacity in businesses and restaurants and the allowing for larger individual gatherings are what worry us. The coronavirus, just as the common cold, spreads easier in indoor facilities with more people. One doesn't have to be an epidemiologist to understand that.

If this had been the situation going into June, with three to four months of warm weather ahead, we would be less concerned.

But colder weather, with more people staying inside most of the time, will be here in a month or so. The possibility of large outbreaks seems not only possible but probable.

To be clear, both Lee and Coppinger have emphasized the importance of taking proper safety precautions — wearing masks, social distancing, remaining home when you're sick and being extra cautious around senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems, who are most at risk from the virus.

The county mayor's mask mandate, which is separate from the order lifting the restrictions on businesses and gatherings, expires Oct. 8. He will decide whether to renew the mandate before then.

We urge him to leave it in place. The mandate calls for anyone over the age of 12 to wear a facial covering of the nose and mouth indoors in all public and private buildings and outside (all with numerous exceptions), and for businesses not to permit customers inside unless they are wearing a face covering.

Masks, though hardly a fashion statement and definitely not always comfortable, have proven to cut down on the spread of the virus.

Over the past six months, we've all learned more than we ever wanted to about what to do and what not to do in a global pandemic that, in the U.S. alone, has killed more than 200,000 people. If we knew it were coming, the country itself, the president, governors, mayors and individuals all might make different decisions than were made.

But many of us understand how to keep ourselves and our families safe. That may mean not frequenting our favorite restaurants for in-person service, not having large family gatherings, not going to concerts or movies, avoiding the hugs of friends, not attending church in person and not visiting elderly relatives.'

READ MORE: Hamilton County shifts COVID-19 testing times as virus restrictions loosen across county and state

The governor's executive order eliminates "caps on gathering size that have proven overly complex and arbitrary because they do not adequately account for critical considerations such as venue capacity and physical characteristics, type of activity involved, and location (indoors vs. outdoors), and thus undermine the more important focus on social distancing."

In other words, one capacity limit doesn't fit all. We get that. A concert hall, theater or convention center might accommodate a large crowd in which individuals still can be socially distant from one another. It makes sense.

But we're worried about the places where it doesn't make sense, where the size of the crowd is large but the venue small, where people can't help but be close to one another. And let's face it, we are social. If we can meet in certain places where we haven't for the past six months and be socially distant, eventually we'll get a little closer and then a little closer. In time, we'll be moving from one group to another, not intending to be so close but doing it nevertheless.

While it's important to our economy and our individual livelihoods for federal, state and local officials to creatively allow businesses to draw closer to normal operations, we want them to do it safely. Most people will follow commonsense guidelines. Some won't. It's the "some" we worry about, especially if the mask mandate is lifted.

Our fervent hope is that the virus is on the wane, there will be no spikes and that a vaccine is around the corner. In the meantime, we implore people to stick to what they've come to know is safe, patronize businesses they know they can remain safe and avoid locations where their gut instinct tells them they cannot be safe. If they do, they'll be around one day soon when masks and restrictions are things of the past.

READ MORE: Tennessee getting first shipment of 133,000 rapid COVID-19 tests for K-12 schools

 

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