Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Meharry Medicla College, Nashville, TN. Photo by Nathan Morgan, Nashville Business Journal

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — Metro authorities are getting better at promulgating health orders and explaining themselves to the public. On March 24, Dr. Alex Jahangir of Metro’s COVID-19 Task force, Dr. James Hildreth and Dr. Lloyda Williamson from Meharry Medical College, spoke to the public via remote video link. Hildreth’s remarks, “Don’t Be a Vector”, are available here. You can view the entire press conference here: https://youtu.be/OZXMcy9lEUs.

America was not ready for the Coronavirus. The country was caught flat-footed.

Officials at first denied and then prevaricated over the lack of tests, PPEs, ventilators, and ICU beds, either because didn’t know the answers or didn’t want to tell the public how badly they messed up.

Without wide-scale testing there could be no early intervention to stop the virus and without such data experts could not tell how many people were infected and how fast the virus was spreading.

So federal health officials came up with a work-around solution. They issued the worst possible directive from a public health perspective: only test sick people or those who just returned from travelling overseas. State and local health authorities complied.

What government officials did not do is immediately approve other labs to produce their own tests or buy test kits from other countries. The delay will cost hundreds if not thousands of lives.

State and local officials have not been much better than President Trump who promised millions of nasal swabs two weeks ago. Maybe they will arrive this week.

Last weekend, after Governor Lee said community testing sites would be set up here but weren’t, there was a line of empty white canopies at a Nissan stadium parking lot.

Dr. Alex Jahangir, head of Metro’s Coronavirus Task Force, was out there doing a show and tell with a TV news crew. There he was, gesturing down the empty line of awnings. But there were no swabs, no medical staffers, no record-keepers, nobody who could actually do anything useful.

“And this is where we would be testing people if we could test people, and cars would be lined up here waiting to pull up and get a swab stuffed up their nose,” he said. (Disclosure: Jahangir didn’t actually say that. He didn’t have to.)

The empty parking lot said it all for him. Despite promises from the President and the Governor, despite hospital officials and Rep. Mike Stewart pleading with the Governor to take action, nothing was being done.

Authorities have called for keeping your distance from others and closed down venues where large numbers of people gather. Schools will stay closed at least through April 24. Those are all necessary moves. On March 24, Governor Lee called out the National Guard to start swabbing people for the virus.

Almost daily, Lee and Mayor John Cooper are holding separate press briefings. Only a couple of questions get asked before the press conferences end. At the statehouse last week Governor Lee got testy with reporters who are frustrated with truncated Q&A sessions and the lack of answers they are getting from official sources.

Hildreth’s remarks on other epidemics and how they spread are educational and candidly refreshing.