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As COVID-19 cases rise, new precautions need to be taken

As COVID-19 cases rise, Carter Countians and much of Northeast Tennessee as well as the country are doing a high-stakes dance.
As of Monday there were 20 active COVID-19 cases in Carter County. The total number, thus far, in the county is 51. At least three churches in the county have reported cases, in addition to a city policeman and an employee at the Carter County Courthouse Annex.
New confirmed COVID-19 infections, which had been few, until a couple of weeks ago jumped up to more than a half dozen last Thursday and Friday. That doesn’t justify panic — but it does reinforce the importance of testing, tracking infections, and what threshold of new COVID-19 cases we can sustain before we apply additional control measures.
Carter County had done well at beating back the initial wave of COVID-19 infections, thanks to strong and decisive health mandates from state and local leaders, good work by local residents in following those mandates, and a healthy dose of luck. The weeks since that initial wave showed there was little immediate danger of a runaway outbreak in the state and region, so authorities cautiously reopened the state’s economy, one step at a time. It wasn’t until the most recent phase, with the economy opening back up, people going on vacation, and getting out more that the confirmed case growth resumed even greater than we were in “hunker down” status.
Is there cause for concern now? Certainly. Case growth isn’t what we want to see under any circumstances. But, we shouldn’t panic. We’re at a very different place than we were in mid-March.
Testing capacity has improved. Part of the reason we’re detecting more cases is that we’re testing more people, more often. Healthcare workers, in particular, are being tested on a regular basis, as are those in hospitals and nursing homes. That means we’re detecting cases now — including asymptomatic ones — that might have gone undetected before.
We’ve also bought ourselves time: By avoiding an early surge in cases that overwhelmed hospitals in large cities, it has given healthcare providers time to prepare for COVID-19 patients, secure an ample stock of personal protective equipment, and learn from harder-hit regions about how best to care for those suffering from the virus.
Moving forward, we cannot become careless. As hot sports flare up in our community, we can stamp them out — our experience of hunkering down has shown us that it’s possible to put a lid on COVID-19, so long as we act quickly and decisively.
It’s all of our responsibility to deprive the virus of means to spread. Just as fires that threaten people are predominantly human-caused, it’s what we do that will determine how much and how quickly COVID-19 will spread. Social distancing, hygiene, and wearing a face covering in public places are our best tools to minimize the risk of virus transmission. Our safety rests on our willingness to abide by these rules. Each new case of COVID-19 underscores the importance of that social contact.