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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The YMCA's Laura Horne gives out treats to families on Saturday during the Hamilton County School District's third annual Back to School Bash at the First Horizon Pavilion. This year's event, sponsored by the Nehemiah Project, BlueCare Tennessee, State Farm, and United Way, was a no-contact drive-thru for families to receive a free backpack with school supplies.

How many more sick people and deaths must we see before we get it?

"Get it" here has a double meaning, of course: How many more must we see before we comprehend the truth of our willful blindness about this dangerous virus and/or before we all become sickened mourners?

Here we are, readying to send our precious children and their teachers to the first day of public school on Wednesday — despite leading national experts' advice to wait for a community COVID-19 test positivity rate of 5% or lower.

Our average percentage of positive tests in Hamilton County since July 16 was 8.8%, local health officials reported Friday. Even with last week's drop in daily new cases — no doubt thanks to the county's recent but unenforced mask mandate — the best decline we've seen put us at 6.7%. But cases and deaths trended up again over the weekend.

But those figures likely don't tell the whole story, as we don't know the true number of cases that go unconfirmed. Here are some numbers we do know:

* The McCallie School football team has halted contact preseason practices after having at least 11 players test positive for COVID-19 — before classes open there on Aug. 18

* About 100 miles north of us, more than 80 students at Cookeville High School have been quarantined for 14 days during the first week of classes after a student tested positive. An additional seven teachers and staff, and a bus driver, also are at home in the mostly rural Putnam County due to a positive test of contact with someone who tested positive.

* About 100 miles south of us, North Paulding County High School just west of Marietta, Georgia, made headlines when a student's photo of a crowded school hallway after classes started Aug. 3 went viral and the student who shot the picture was suspended. Since then, nine coronavirus cases were reported, according to a letter from the principal. Six of those cases were students and three were staff members, the letter said. (After some outrage, the 15-year-old student with the camera was readmitted to school.)

* There's more trouble in Georgia: In Cherokee County, a second-grader testing positive resulted in 20 other students and the teacher being asked to quarantine for two weeks. Marietta city schools have seen at least five employees test positive after the system began "preplanning" work on July 27. And in Gwinnett County Public Schools, about 260 employees had either tested positive or been exposed to COVID-19.

* Roughly 500 mostly maskless Republicans gathered for three hours at a fundraising event at the Chattanooga Convention and Trade Center on July 31. Health officials have warned that at least one person in the infectious period of COVID-19 was there. How many GOP celebrants took that exposure home to their children and other family members?

People! Can we not read? Do we not watch news? Do we not understand that alternative schooling arrangements do not mean children's education and well-being are abandoned? Do we not understand that taking the most protective actions we can against this virus is not a matter of health vs. economy?

READ MORE: Hamilton County braces for impact of schools reopening amid coronavirus pandemic

In fact, if we don't better protect the regions' and nation's health, we are dooming the economy and threatening our children's future of any kind.

Our divisive president has said falsely that children are "virtually immune" to COVID-19. But physicians and data tell a different story.

* More than 97,000 children nationwide tested positive for COVID-19 "in just the last two weeks of July," according to a report published last week by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association. The report states there was a 40% increase in child cases across the states and cities that were studied. Another new report suggests older children can transmit the virus just as much as adults, and yet another study says children younger than 5 carry a much higher viral load than adults.

* At least 86 children have died since May, according to the new report. Last week, a 7-year-old boy with no pre-existing conditions became the youngest coronavirus victim in Georgia.

* Overall, the U.S. has just seen five days in a row of more than 1,000 daily deaths until Saturday. And over the weekend we topped five million reported infections since the start of the pandemic, with at least 163,000 deaths.

What more do we need to see?

Times Free Press sports columnist Mark Wiedmer this weekend took on another schools-related COVID folly: Our "colossally stupid game of Russian roulette we football-addicted Southerners keep playing, and losing, against the coronavirus."

"Time to end it," Wiedmer demanded. "No football for high schools in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and everywhere else where your words roll slowly and sweetly from your lips, as if bathed in molasses. ... We have seen the enemy, and it is as much us as it is COVID-19."

He is right. We all need to stop whining about wearing masks or social distancing or diminished partying.

But most of all, we need no more politicking. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp need to mandate masks statewide and help all our schools get the online learning tools they need. You, governors: You need to do what's right.

As for the rest of us? Let's be like the 15-year-old with a camera in Paulding County and make some good trouble to force better school policy.

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