Stay inside or go out? See one friend or five? And, what about wearing a mask?
As the black-and-white guidelines of the safer at home orders lift in Nashville and the state, the decision for residents has become a moral one.
That became especially clear at a solemn Metro Nashville press briefing the morning after Memorial Day, when a trio of Metro health leaders had stern words for residents.
Dr. Michael Caldwell, Nashville’s director of health, said the city received 95 complaints over the weekend. Most were about workers not covering their faces.
“I’m also aware of gatherings over the holiday weekend where large crowds of people were not following social distancing and not wearing facial coverings,” he said Tuesday. “The number of new cases reported this morning is a serious reminder that these types of gatherings puts everyone at risk. These gatherings have been linked to the greatest risk of community transmission of this disease.”
That day, the city reported a sudden jump in the number of new cases to 153. That’s in comparison to its 14-day average of 81.
This is a sharp turn since Nashville began its Safer At Home policies. Dr. Erin Patel, the executive director of the Tennessee Psychological Association, says she was surprised by how quickly the city took to the guidelines at first.
“I don’t know. It seemed almost like post-9/11, where everyone was really coming together. There was a sense of ‘We have to work as a community and try to get ahead of this pandemic,’ and that seemed very promising,” she says. “But, I think now we’ve seen this shift.”
People are back out again, as evidenced by two state parks that were at-capacity in Middle Tennessee over the weekend. Many weren’t wearing face coverings.
As a psychologist, Patel posits the differing opinions on masks can be for a variety of reasons, including the rising sentiment she’s observed that masks make someone look weak. But she says, it mostly boils down to different mindsets.
“A lot of people have this idea of kind of being an individualist, and ‘It’s about me and what I need or what I want.’ But the people who do have more of this collective mindset, I think that they would be more prone and likely to be the ones to wear masks. They want to do good for others, even if it’s an inconvenience to them.”
It also can be hard for our brains to process the 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths nationwide, Patel says, especially because the outbreak was milder in Tennessee compared to other parts of the country, like New York City. “I just don’t think people can connect what’s going on with the pandemic as clearly as you might in a very urban area.”
Besides masks, there are differing opinions on businesses reopening, social gatherings and even handshaking. The debate can be an added stressor on top of already anxiety-inducing times. Patel says, it’s best to approach each personal decision with logic over emotion.
“Everyone has to just be kind to themselves. Take time to have grace on oneself to realize that there’s no right or wrong answer, so I think that everyone has to make the choices that seem the most right to them.”
At least one decision is still clear: Wash your hands.