Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A clinician administers a COVID-19 test at the Avondale Youth and Family Development Center on Wednesday. As cases rise in the county, Cempa Community Care was offering free walk-up and drive-thru testing.

Virus spike excuses don't add up

If you're like us, one of the stories on the Times Free Press front page Thursday seemed like déjà vu.

"Americans have strong fear of new infections," read the headline. The Associated Press story out of Des Moines, Iowa, went on to say, "Strong concern [among 83% of Americans] about a second wave of coronavirus infections is reinforcing widespread opposition to reopening public places, a new poll finds, even as many state leaders step up efforts to return to life before the pandemic."

Gosh. They should come down to Tennessee, where it seems we're already living the fear. After all, we "reopened" nearly three weeks ago, and according to another story on our front page Thursday, we're — guess what — seeing a marked increase in COVID-19 cases. In fact, read the local headline: "Wednesday sees largest 1-day hike in cases."

The story, by Times Free Press reporter Wyatt Massey, goes on: "New [Hamilton County] cases have surged over the past three weeks, rising from 163 on May 1 to 447 on Wednesday." Wednesday's spike was 43 new cases.

Local health officials just a couple of days ago said the rising numbers were merely a reflection of increased testing, and it's true that Tennessee is a poster child of more testing. We are one of 10 states to reach a Harvard research benchmark for COVID-19 testing. Tennessee in the past seven days has averaged 9,059 tests a day, nearly tripling the goal of 3,266.

Georgia and Alabama — which also reopened right around the first of May — did not meet their higher testing benchmarks. Their cases are rising, too.

On Wednesday, our health department attributed the spike of 43 cases to "spread in workplaces that never shut down" and among family members.

Guys, you can't have it both ways. Reopening was fine, Hamilton County officials said when Mayor Andy Berke wanted to keep our stay-at-home order in place. Now you blame the rising number of cases on workplaces that "never shut down"?

Here we are in Hamilton County — and in the South — just living the coronavirus "will just go away" daydream.


Masking apologies are due

Tennessee took a lot of flak for the free cloth masks it began distributing this month — the ones made by a Cleveland sock-making firm that looked, well, like a sock.

In fact, the state took a lot of flak about the knit mask, which you could see daylight through, right here on this page. From this writer.

But it seems an apology is due to the state, and the sockmaker, Renfro Corp., after The Knoxville News Sentinel asked Northeastern University engineering professor Amy Mueller, who is running a cloth mask testing project, to put those face socks to the test.

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Staff file photo by Elizabeth Fite / This is a mask distributed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's administration and made by Renfro Corp's facility in Cleveland. The masks have been tested and deemed effective.

Mueller's study examines how well cloth masks filter out airborne particles and compares them to surgical masks and N95 respirators. According to her study, Tennessee's masks can effectively filter 57-63% of small, airborne particles, putting them in the same neighborhood as surgical masks, which tested at 53-75% effective. N95 masks were able to filter out 99% of test particles.

Other cloth masks varied widely, ranging from 47-90% effective. That mean's Tennessee's free masks sit squarely in the middle of the pack.

They may look like a sock, but they work to lessen a wearer's likelihood of spreading COVID-19 through their own coughing or breathing in areas where social distancing might not be possible, like a store aisle or a narrow sidewalk.

Good job, Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee and Renfro Corp.


Paintball trouble in search of fun fix

"Guns down, paintballs up" is a violence quelling game in need of community intervention lest it backfire.

The movement, started by Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage a couple of years ago to stop real gun violence, made it to Chattanooga about three weeks ago. And it seemed to work fine until it morphed into vandalism and the targeting of others who weren't part of the game, according to police.

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Contributed photo, Chattanooga Police Department / A Chattanooga police camera caught this photo of a paintball cloud near a car on Grove Street.

Some community and City Council members have publicly supported the paintball games among young adults. Yet despite the good intentions, Chattanooga police say that since May 1 they've received more than 70 reports of paintball activity, most between 5 and 10 p.m., and just over a dozen related injuries, as well as vandalism.

So police are asking for still more well-intended community intervention, and 2021 City Council candidate Marie Mott, who has criticized police for "surveilling" the paintballers, says she and others have been working on a plan to organize the movement.

"You can't ask them to stop playing in the streets if you don't have an alternative place for them to have fun," she told the Times Free Press. "Rapper [Cameron] "C-Grimey" [Williams] and I have outlined public spaces that could be used as spaces to paintball that are away from the public. It has been sent to the council so we shall see what happens."

Working things out is just what Police Chief David Roddy wants.

"We absolutely appreciate the intent [of guns down, paintballs up]," Roddy said. "We would much rather, as a police department, have paintballs going through the air of Chattanooga than real bullets."

But the game has spread and "is starting to cause real fear" and real injuries, whether "intended or not," he said. "When we started seeing that and hearing the spread of concern and fear, then we have an absolute obligation to get this message out and ask for our community to step into these conversations as well."

They're both right.

Chattanooga — give this story a happy ending.