More people in Sumner County have died of COVID-19 than any other county in the state, 17 as of April 7, with 11 of those deaths from Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing.
The high rate of cases could be due to people ignoring recommendations to stay home. Many grocery stores and retailers are still packed with shoppers, while restaurants are still operating with workers packed into small kitchens, despite switching to online and carryout only.
“I think it’s like everywhere - some are and some aren’t,” Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown says about people taking the directive to stay home seriously. “I wish people would. It would help us all. I think a lot of people just have very selfish attitudes right now and that’s not going to help.
“For all the people that want their freedoms, there’s other people that want strict orders in place. We all should be able to do the right thing without an order.”
Gov. Bill Lee, who issued a shelter-in-place late last week, said the state used cellphone data provided by Unacast and traffic patterns from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to determine people were not staying home like they should, at least after March 30.
Data from the TDOT, which analyzed traffic patterns for March 2020, showed a steep drop-off in vehicle movement March 13-29. Data beginning March 30 indicates travel is trending upward again.
And Unacast cell data indicates the movement of Tennesseans was trending toward pre-COVID-19 levels.
“The month of April stands to be an extremely tough time for our state as we face the potential for a surge in COVID-19 cases,” Lee said. “Every Tennessean must take this seriously, remain at home and ensure we save lives.”
And while Gallatin has become a national headline, Brown says she hopes residents locally and across the country take this as a wake-up call that the virus is very real and the best thing people can do to help stop the spread is to just stay home.
“The virus remains our enemy, not each other. We’ve got to be serious,” Brown says. “This virus doesn’t have legs. It doesn’t have wings. It moves from person to person, and the way to stop the virus is to stop people from moving. We have to be away from each other for a while until this virus has nowhere else to go.”
Meanwhile Brown continues to field phone calls from concerned citizens about what other facilities and business are doing to keep employees home when needed, and not just when they look sick. It is a frustration for business owners who have made the decision to close while other businesses continue to operate, and are packed with business.
“I can’t check on what every business in our city is doing,” she explains. “When I get someone that shares a concern with me, I typically follow up. I’ve felt a responsibility to do that and try and get a measure of where they are and if they have needs and if they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. By and large, I think people are.”
Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt says many aren’t following orders and probably never will.
“There’s a group of people in our society, they’re not responsible at all,” Holt says. “Until we have the authority to really say ‘You’re going to be in some serious trouble if you get out and you congregate and you perpetuate this virus,’ I’m afraid it’s going to continue. Sumner County is right at the top for infections. This is not where we want to be.”