In Nashville, the honky-tonks hummed the weekend away. In Chattanooga, the zoo was busy with people, despite warnings and pleadings from city, county and medical officials that we all stay home. Furthermore, Hamilton County leaders and health officials had to plead Monday with local residents to be responsible and self-report if they believe they've been exposed to coronavirus.
Are we not listening? Are we just numbed after weeks of being told no tests are available? Or are we simply in denial — still — that we're in a pandemic with a virus that is 10 times more deadly than the flu?
Over and over, national health leaders have warned about the virus, telling us to stay home and practice "social distancing," the nonhuman art of maintaining a six-foot distance from each other.
The Chattanooga Zoo was one of the few public entertainment and tourist venues to remain open after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed here Friday — an Episcopal rector who had contact with hundreds of people for two weeks before he realized in early March that he might have the disease.
The reality — the real toll this virus carries for illness, lives, business and livelihoods — seems not to have registered here yet.
The rose-colored glasses need to come off now. Before it's too late.
While local residents walked the grounds of the Chattanooga Zoo and Nashvillians danced and partied in honky-tonks, much of the rest of world — especially in places already ravaged by coronavirus — left streets and churches and parks empty.
As registered in an online Washington Post photo gallery Sunday, a lone person sat in a park in Milan, Italy. In that same photo gallery, people in Seoul, South Korea, lined up — not quite in acceptable social distancing manner — to buy protective masks. In Yokohama, Japan, the streets were empty in Chinatown. In America's King County, Washington, a young girl took her piano lesson over the internet, rather than in person. In Miami, a woman stood by the door of her empty travel agency. In Austin, Texas, musicians vowed to keep up concerts.
Here in Tennessee, for now it seems, we're in denial. Even as, by Monday morning, the number of coronavirus cases in the United States climbed over 3,800 in 49 states. Of those cases, Tennessee has 52 and Georgia has 121. Experts tell us the true numbers are certainly much higher than confirmed cases.
The Centers for Disease Control has recommended — we stress, recommended — that all gatherings of more than 10 people be banned.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has banned — repeat, banned — gatherings of more than 50 people and coordinated that ban with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut.
New York City has closing down the nation's largest school system and said that all bars and restaurants would close, limiting those outlets to takeout and food delivery.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom also issued guidelines calling for the closing of all bars, night clubs and wineries. He said that restaurants could remain open, but they must reduce their occupancy by half to allow for more "social distancing" among diners.
In Los Angeles, movie theaters and gyms were closed by order of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who also said Sunday he was temporarily closing bars, nightclubs and restaurants except for takeout and delivery.
Alarmist, you think? Consider the words of Michael Leavitt, a former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services:
"Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after a pandemic will seem inadequate. This is the dilemma we face, but it should not stop us from doing what we can to prepare."
Get comfortable with it, Chattanooga. COVID-19 is here and it's time for us to hunker down with confidence and a smile.