I have been so proud of Nashville during the recent weeks, which have wreaked havoc on our city in so many ways. First, we have been reeling — but strongly recovering — from the Midstate tornadoes that have left so many without homes and enduring the scary reality of life-threatening weather. This devastation can happen in an instant, leaving homes without roofs, families uprooted and businesses strapped to recover.
On the heels of that crisis, we are now facing the challenge of keeping our residents and visitors healthy and our city financially stable despite the growing threat of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is much different from the impact of a tornado’s damage, but it similarly leaves worry and damage in its wake.
The health risks are real and undeniable. We have many vulnerable residents who would not easily be able to withstand contracting the virus. Our elderly population, our homeless population and all of our at-risk residents deserve to be protected to the best of our abilities. It’s our responsibility as human beings to help each other, and it’s our government’s responsibility to put steps in place to adequately and thoroughly prepare as a community. It’s not fair to ignore preventive measures simply because you don’t fall into the high-risk categories. We should protect our most vulnerable citizens at all times, and not just when it’s convenient.
I am glad that Mayor Cooper has taken actionable steps to protect our residents and visitors from the spread of the disease. The Metro Board of Health unanimously voted to classify this situation as a public health emergency and authorize our leaders to enforce obvious and commonsense measures to help stem the tide of the virus. It’s much better to be overprepared than underprepared. The economic impact from the virus and our preventive measures will undeniably have repercussions for everyone, but our residents’ and visitors’ health must unquestioningly be put first.
Nashville has conquered challenges every time we have been faced with them. It’s in times of crisis and challenge that our true character is revealed. Our leaders deserve our support and compliance, especially when no option is ideal. The fact that Nashville’s tourism head Butch Spyridon is solidly in support of Mayor Cooper’s decisions shows us that our leaders have their priorities right.
Once these initial days and weeks of panic settle down and the danger from this pandemic has begun to fade, small businesses and everyday citizens are the ones who will need our help the most. The additional cost of unexpected grocery purchases, missed wages and finding child care when school is canceled will create real problems for many households. Covering shifts when fellow employees are sick or losing shifts because you’re home caring for school-age children have thorny consequences to routines and take-home pay.
Stores and restaurants must grapple with the reality of fewer customers and less money in the cashbox. They will also worry about the damage to their employees’ health and financial wellbeing. Schools are wrestling with the complicated challenge of canceling classes so as not to function as enormous Petri dishes. With a disease set to impact our most vulnerable residents, who among us wouldn’t want to do everything in our power to assist?
We will repair the damage from the virus once the immediate danger has passed, just as we are rebuilding from the tornado today. Our first job is keeping as many of us as healthy as we can for as long as we can. Our next job will be to provide the best and swiftest care to those who fall ill. It’s only after the danger has passed that we begin to rebuild. We cannot let our fear of this disease keep us from being the generous and welcoming city Nashville has always been.
We recovered from the 1998 tornado in record time. We recovered so well from the 2010 flood that we’ve become a shining example of how a city comes together to help one another recover. We made it through the Great Recession and have since been experiencing a bumper crop of visitors and growth like we’ve never seen before.
Our recovery from the tornado and coronavirus will be just as robust, but we need to remember the power of cooperation. Dr. Aaron Beck is the father of modern cognitive-behavior therapy, which is often applied in situations of anxiety and panic. Beck once said, “The stronger person is not the one making the most noise, but the one who can quietly direct the conversation toward defining and solving problems.”
It’s not enough to simply say, “Don’t panic.” We must all work together to conquer this twofold crisis of viral and weather disaster. In years to come, we will consider it Nashville’s finest hour.
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.