Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Wednesday released a revised model assessing COVID-19’s spread throughout the state prior to the lifting of the safer-at-home order.
The new report calculates Tennessee’s current transmission rate to be around 0.96 — meaning the spread is very slightly decreasing — but said it is too early to assess the impact of reopening nonessential businesses because the virus' incubation period is 14 days.
Without the effects of reopening in mind, the model predicts the state’s hospitalization rate will remain flat at its current rate, around 275 hospitalizations. The new projection is much lower than the researchers' initial estimate from early April, which said the best-case scenario involved 2,000 to 3,000 hospitalizations.
The report also addresses how researchers view the daily case increases due to mass testing and are taking identified clusters into account while making their calculations.
While the transmission number has remained relatively stable since our last report, over the last two weeks there have been distinct “spikes” in reported positive cases and an increase in the average number of positive cases reported per day. Since our last report, Tennessee has reported a large number of cases in congregate settings (e.g., within prisons and nursing homes) and has seen continued case growth in the community. Tennessee is now operating “drive-thru” testing centers in 37 counties across the state. As of this writing, at least one new case was tested and confirmed positive within the last 10 days in 77 of 95 counties statewide.
This raises an important question. Is this increase in cases because there is more widespread testing, because more people are getting infected, or both? This question remains difficult to answer with certainty, especially given widespread testing in congregate settings.
Vanderbilt University releases reopening plan
Vanderbilt University released a multiphase plan on Wednesday to resume campus operations set to begin around May 18.
The initial phase will include the resumption of a limited amount of specific research and operations that cannot be conducted remotely, according to a release. Standard health protocols such as social distancing, wearing masks and enhanced cleaning will be mandated on campus for the foreseeable future.
Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan Wente said the university is facing an economic situation more significant than the 2008 recession but is in a better financial position to navigate it than its peers. So far, university officials have suspended all discretionary spending and will review all capital construction and renovations projects. They also are looking to reduce the school and division budgets by 5 to 10 percent.
As for a timeline on reopening classrooms, Wente said those decisions have not yet been made.
“As for the fall semester and bringing students back to campus, no firm decisions regarding our timeline or levels of activity have been made. But from what we know now, our fall semester will look very different than it has at any other time in our history,” she said.