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Time to hunker down and stay home

Daily life as we know has changed remarkably, as Monday, both county and city officials as well as executive officers in neighboring cities issued “Safer At Home” directives aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus. The new restriction places limits on where and how we can shop, do business, and play. They are designed to keep us at home and indoors.
We, the residents, have an obligation to adhere to the orders and act responsibly. This is a test of patience and common sense for residents and government alike, and the more a collective attitude prevails, the faster and better the region will emerge from the pandemic.
Elizabethton and Carter County’s stay home directive took effect today, and directs that people stay home when possible and distance themselves in public. Called “safer-at-home” orders, the directives are an amplified appeal to residents and businesses to act responsibly by requiring that large groups not congregate and that people stay at least six feet away from others.
In practice, though, the orders are flexible enough to allow dozens of businesses to operate, from grocery stores to banks, drug stores, laundromats, and essential public services, like government agencies, gas stations, and health care providers.
Also, Gov. Bill Lee Monday issued a “safer at home” order for the entire state. That means all non-essential businesses will need to close and everyone is encouraged to stay at home wherever possible.
More than a week ago, more than 600 physicians signed a letter asking the governor to order a shelter in place across the state to prevent a “disastrous” surge in COVID-19 cases.
Instead, Gov. Lee issued an executive order with new restrictions like closing restaurant dining rooms and gyms, but it did not mandate sheltering in place or close all non-essential businesses.
Now, it’s going further with Monday’s order. “This is not a mandated ‘shelter in place’ order, because it remains deeply important to me to protect personal liberties,” Gov. Lee said Monday at an afternoon news briefing.
He said instead, it was a strong urging to stay home when at all possible.
The orders announced Monday locally and at the state level are important because what they are trying to do is create a safer community. The “safer at home” directives are not meant to alarm anyone. They were not issued to cause a rush on the grocery stores. You can still go to the grocery store. You’ll still be able to go and take walks. You’ll still be able to go for a job. What the Mayors and Governor is trying to do is send a message, a very strong message, an exclamation point, on what we’ve said before — and what others are saying — this virus is serious, and we need to take it seriously.
The days aheadwill provide something of a marker going forward in determining whether the steps taken so far are appropriate, or whether the region together needs to tweak its strategy for responding to this pandemic. But success or failure will largely hinge on the actions of each individual, and residents have an obligation to follow these orders. Meanwhile, government has an ongoing obligation to ensure those directives are clear, consistent and fair.