coronavirus 2

Two more cases of COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, were confirmed in Tennessee Tuesday morning, bringing the statewide count to six.

The new patients are adult males in Middle Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health has not released any further information on the cases and investigations are pending. State health officials say the overall risk to the public still remains low as COVID-19 is not currently widespread in Tennessee or the United States.

Gov. Bill Lee announced on March 5 the first case of coronavirus was identified in a 44-year-old adult male from Williamson County who had recently traveled through Nashville International Airport from Boston. On Sunday, two more cases in Nashville and Memphis were confirmed by city leaders.

Community Response

Confirmed cases have visited BNA, AT&T Tower and a Williamson County school. Williamson County Schools district closed Tuesday after a parent in the Brentwood area tested positive for coronavirus. The district did not disclose which school the parent had visited or when the visit happened. BNA and AT&T Tower remain open and have implemented around-the-clock cleaning protocols in line with the Center for Disease Control guidance. 

Battle Ground Academy closed last Friday for cleaning after the first Tennessee case was confirmed to be a member of their parent population. BGA students returned to school Monday but were off again on Tuesday "out of an abundance of caution" because a member of their senior class is being tested for coronavirus. 

Mayor John Cooper said Sunday morning he does not plan to cancel large events in the near future and Metro Nashville Public Schools remain open. A new study by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests children may be asymptomatic when carrying the virus, potentially circumventing the government’s attempts to limit community spread. No coronavirus cases confirmed thus far in Tennessee have involved children. 

Vanderbilt University has canceled in-person classes for the rest of this week and said the 13,000-student campus will shift to online and alternative learning options starting Monday and running through at least the end of this month.

Interim Chancellor Susan Wente said the VU campus will remain open and offer limited services. But, she added, Vanderbilt is also suspending non-athletic events and gatherings through April 30, a move Wente said is “based on current best practices regarding social distancing as a prevention strategy for disease transmission.” Sporting events policies are being reviewed, the provost added.

Vanderbilt leaders’ decision to suspend in-person classes came after about 20 other universities and colleges did so late last week or during the weekend.

WPLN reports 61 meetings — accounting for 45,000 room nights in hotels — have been canceled so far, resulting in a nearly $22 million loss in spending. 

Lawmakers attended CPAC

At least one Tennessee lawmaker attended the Conservative Political Action Conference late last month.

Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) was at the event in Maryland where at least one confirmed coronavirus patient interacted with lawmakers and other conservative celebrities. Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn spoke at the conference.

Though state House leadership initially told the Post no member attended CPAC, a spokesperson now confirms Rep. Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro) also attended.

“We have no plans to change our schedule, however, we will continue to assess this situation," House Speaker Cameron Sexton said.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is among the attendees who interacted with the patient and is staying home from Congress on a self-imposed quarantine.

But Senate leadership is not urging Crowe to stay home. 

Here’s a statement from Adam Kleinheider, communications director for Senate Speaker Randy McNally:

While Senator Crowe did attend the most recent CPAC conference to accept an award on behalf of the Senate, he does not believe he came into direct contact with any infected individual and has shown no symptoms to date. When Senator Crowe became aware of news reports of possible coronavirus exposure at CPAC, he contacted Health Commissioner Lisa Piercy. Commissioner Piercy advised him that because he has been entirely symptom-free for ten days no testing or quarantine would be necessary. Speaker McNally believes no additional precautions are required past those measures everyone is advised to take which include frequent and thorough handwashing and maintaining significant social distance whenever possible.

Crowe was first elected to the state Senate in 1990, and he chairs the Health and Welfare Committee. He recently launched a bid for the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe in Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District.

State reduces reporting information

On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Health announced they would no longer release which county coronavirus patients have been confirmed in — a significant departure from reporting protocols used by other states. Instead, they will report whether a case was identified in East, Middle or West Tennessee. 

In a comment to the Post, a TDH spokesperson said this of the change: 

"Our practice when we have small numbers of reportable illnesses is to give location information only by grand division of the state in order to protect the patients' identities."

At the coronavirus task force meeting Monday night, TDH Commissioner Lisa Piercy said they will continue to report based on grand divisions in rural cases but will notify the public if a case is confirmed in Metro areas. 

National state of coronavirus

The United States accounts for at least 730 cases across 36 states, as of Tuesday morning, and has had 26 deaths. Washington state, New York, California, Oregon, Maryland and Florida have all declared emergencies and infectious disease experts have predicted regional lockdowns could come into effect to limit community spread.

Relative to a number of other countries, the United States is behind on testing for the virus. Last week, President Donald Trump and his top health officials promised 1 million tests would be distributed among states. However, they were able to deliver only 75,000 on Friday; more test kits are being made now. 

Tennessee started with the ability to test 85 people last Thursday when the first coronavirus case was announced and had already tested eight people. The Tennessee Department of Health has since received more tests from the CDC and private labs are contributing to their numbers.

State epidemiologist John Dunn said officials have so far been able to test everyone qualified for screening. Further information on the state's screening capabilities is still pending. 

Other resources

The public can take the following common-sense measures to avoid the virus.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Stay home if you are sick.

  • Stay away from people who are sick.

Most patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection have mild respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. A smaller number of patients have severe symptoms requiring hospitalization.

TDH has launched a Tennessee Coronavirus Public Information Line in partnership with the Tennessee Poison Center.

The number is (877) 857-2945 and is available daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central time. 

For more information, you can also read:

• Metro Health's coronavirus information and response page

• From our earlier coverage this week: Further Williamson coronavirus testing comes back negative

• From WPLN: Area hospitals set protocols in preparation for additional coronavirus cases

• From the Vanderbilt Hustler: A Q&A with coronavirus expert Mark Denison

Click here for more resources and information on how best to navigate the coronavirus outbreak. 

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