Knox County leaders must join forces now to fight COVID-19 | #students | #parents

opinion

Knox County is facing an economic and public health crisis that threatens livelihoods and lives on a scale that will be marked in history if allowed to proceed unchecked.

Each week, as COVID-19 cuts a wider swath across Knox County, our institutions are frozen, forced to watch as the only entity with the power to act decisively — the Knox County Board of Health — is tied up by overlapping bureaucratic imperatives and clouded accountability.

The danger is real: Knox County last week became the leader in COVID-19 case growth among Tennessee’s urban counties, overtaking Davidson, Hamilton and Shelby counties, and deaths are skyrocketing.

Our board of health has proven unable to muster the will to prevent an impending cavalcade of devastating events: the closures of Knox County Schools and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville; a resultant cascade of business failures as spending is choked off for months or more, instead of the weeks it would take to slow the pandemic’s advance; a rising toll of our family members damaged or dead from the virus.

The point here is not to criticize, however. It is to seek solutions.

One solution sits clearly in front of us.

We ask our leaders — in business, in civil service, in public health, in medicine, in government and in academia — to come together in a grand coalition capable of stopping the impending crisis before it overwhelms each of our institutions one by one.

The group of leaders must be small, powerful and guided by the best medical expertise.

We ask these leaders to commit to a schedule of frequent discussions, and to issue unambiguous recommendations on a regular basis for the board of health and the public to rally behind.

We propose these leaders come together, in such form as legally allowed:

  • Randy Boyd, University of Tennessee System president
  • Dr. Martha Buchanan, Knox County Health Department director
  • Glenn Jacobs, Knox County mayor
  • Indya Kincannon, Knoxville mayor
  • Phyllis Nichols, Knoxville Urban League president and CEO
  • Mike Odom, Knoxville Chamber of Commerce president and CEO
  • Donde Plowman, University of Tennessee at Knoxville chancellor
  • Trey Smith, activist and University of Tennessee student and football player
  • Bob Thomas, Knox County Schools superintendent
  • The chief medical officers or their designees from Covenant Health, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Tennova and University of Tennessee Medical Center

We know this group has no legal authority to put in place policy, but it would have a persuasive authority, and a moral authority, to create action.

We ask these leaders to move with an urgency equal to the crisis in front of us — ideally, a first set of recommendations would be released publicly before the next board of health meeting Wednesday, along with the facts the board of health needs to absorb before acting.

We ask these leaders, most of all, to act with a singular determination to serve the common good.

Joel Christopher wrote this editorial on behalf of the editorial board. Christopher is the executive editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and Knox News. Email him at joel.christopher@knoxnews.com and folllow him on Twitter @j_christo. Make our community, our society and our republic stronger by supporting robust local journalism. Subscribe to Knox News at knoxnews.com/subscribe.


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