Neile is a fighter. I’ve always admired her for that.

She beat cancer and afterwards became a nurse so she could join the forces with the people who helped save her own life. Last week she posted a photo on Facebook of herself that was so despondent, so defeated, that I hardly recognized her.

She was wearing scrubs, sitting in a hospital stairwell and crying, ground down with exhaustion.

Her battle to save patients from COVID-19 had overcome her. The caption read, “Check on your nurse friends — we are not OK.” #covid_19.

Over the past six weeks, Neile’s story has been repeated across our nation, across the globe. Nurses, doctors and other health care workers have been almost overcome, fighting an enemy that they weren’t ready for, dealing with a disease that they didn’t understand. And yet they kept fighting. For the lives of their families, for the life of their communities.

Here in west Georgia, our health care system is also waging war against this viral invader. The virus seems to come out of nowhere, taking an enormous toll on the people who become acutely ill. It’s also significantly contagious, requiring enormous efforts to ensure the safety of health caregivers. But our health care workers are rising to the challenge, using innovation to overcome supply shortages and focusing on patient care in the face of an enemy that has already devastated other communities around the world.

On March 25, Carrollton Mayor Betty Cason, County Chairman Michelle Morgan and other city and county officials heard from Dr. Laura Larson, infectious disease control specialist with Tanner Health System. She reported, “We went from having no identifying infections last week to having eight on Thursday and now we’re up to 61,” Larson said. “We know that we’re on a trajectory of being at a point of not being able to contain what’s happening right now.”

In a nutshell, our health care professionals are on the frontline and are all that is standing between us and this terrible epidemic.

If the virus grows beyond Tanner’s capacity to care for the sick, our hospitals won’t have the beds, supplies or staff to care for all the people who would need them. And the people who are deathly ill will face that death alone, unattended by loved ones, because visitors can’t be allowed into such a contagious environment.

Sound grim? It could be. But we can help these health care heroes stem the tide.

#RedRibbonforTanner — Put a red ribbon on your mailbox. Or your door, tree or lamppost. Why red? It represents a red cross, the universal symbol of health care. When these workers are going in to work a 12-hour shift, still tired from their shift the day before, they will see your red ribbon and know that you’re rooting for them. That boost can go a long way when they’re running on fumes. Here’s the challenge. Use something you already have at home — Christmas ribbon, red napkins (that’s what I used), even a T-shirt so you can stay sheltered at home and still show support.

Make a mask. Over the past few weeks, west Georgia quilters and other people who sew have been making protective masks for the people who work at Tanner. Together they produced over a thousand masks that are being used to help workers stay safe. Tanner’s need for masks has been met for now, but there are other people who need them — nursing home workers, ambulance crews, even cashiers who could use an extra layer of protection as they continue to work with the public. Make a mask and give it to someone who needs it.

Pray on your porch. Churches around west Georgia are working together to get the word out — on Wednesday nights at 7:30, step outside of your home and pray for safety and strength for our health care workers. You don’t need to go to a parking lot to pray. God can hear you anywhere.

And, most importantly, stay at home. I’m sad to report, in Unacast’s Social Distancing Scoreboard (a national measuring service that you can access on Tanner’s daily COVID-19 report), Carroll County scored a D- and Haralson County also scored an D- in our level of social distancing (it’s factored by observing reduction of distance that people are traveling and reduction in visits to nonessential venues).

In the northwest, where the virus hit early, shelter in place is working.

The infection rates there have been reduced significantly because people are being responsible and sheltering at home. Here, many people are taking this seriously and only going to the store to get weekly groceries.

But clearly (as evidenced in our county’s almost failing grade), there are people who aren’t taking it seriously. Here’s the thing — the longer we act like nothing’s wrong, the more the virus spreads and the longer this lockdown is going to last.

Friends and neighbors may lose their businesses. And our health care system may be overcome with terribly sick people.

Our leaders are asking us to take these measures because they want to save lives. So when you get bored and want to wander around Walmart to look at Easter decorations, or drop by Lowes to pick up some perennials, think about a nurse, sitting in the stairwell, crying because her patients are dying alone and she can’t do anything about it.

Think about an elderly woman who has to drop her husband off at the ER and can’t go in to sit by his bedside. Think about an at-risk child who has to spend yet another week trapped inside their own house because the virus is still spreading.

And, for everyone’s sake, stay at home.

Mimi Gentry, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian. Send comments to