Gov. Bill Lee Sunday ordered the state-wide closure of all dine-in restaurants, bars and workout facilities until April 6. The order prohibits social gatherings of more than 10 people and prohibits nonessential visitations to nursing homes and retirement communities.
Lee still has not yet ordered all nonessential businesses to suspend operations, however encouraged them to "enact policies that take extra steps to assist vulnerable populations by considering measures such as shopping hours exclusive from the general public."
Lee has already ordered the deregulation of the health care industry and requested that school districts across the state close by Friday. Other governors have ordered statewide closures of dine-in restaurant, bars, fitness centers and more, with California, Illinois and New York ordering all residents to stay home except for essential travel.
Lee on Friday said he will not make such state-wide orders in the near future in order to preserve the economy.
The moves come after 179 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Davidson County, and more than 370 confirmed statewide, but health experts underlined Sunday that testing efforts may already be a lost cause.
“Every six days, the number of people who have this could double,” Meharry Medical College President James Hildreth said at the mayor's daily press briefing.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center President and CEO Jeff Balser said individuals can spread the virus before they know they have it, and COVID-19’s spread is expected to be at its peak in Metro Nashville in the next few weeks.
“We have to do everything we can to preserve our health care resources,” he said.
Federal officials have also shifted their call for widespread testing instead of encouraging people who don’t absolutely need it to reserve the resources for the elderly or people with underlying health conditions. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci on Saturday said the country still does not have to capacity to test everyone, and testing takes away personal protective gear from a health care sector already facing a severe capacity strain and looking to bulk up on supplies.
In Nashville, new data shows the only scenario in which area health care systems can keep pace with the pandemic's spread is if infection rate stays below 20 percent of the adult populations and spans beyond 18 months. Inadequate testing capacity thus far has left researchers and state and local officials unable to know the full scope of COVID-19's spread.
Lee and Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey are working to increase the state's health care resources, including opening unlicensed and unstaffed beds, reopening recently-closed rural hospitals and suspending elective surgeries. But various infection scenarios also don’t account for the possible decline in services if those battling the infection on the front lines also get infected.
On Thursday, state health officials had counted 537 adult and 83 pediatric ventilators as being available and they have ordered 570 more. If 40 percent of the adult population in Tennessee becomes infected — a moderate estimate in a recent Harvard study — that would mean 2.2 million adults would become infected with COVID-19. Of that number, 440,000 would need to be hospitalized and 88,000 would need intensive care and perhaps the use of a ventilator.
Nashville issues "Safer at Home" order
Mayor John Cooper on Sunday announced a “Safer at Home” order, closing all nonessential businesses and urging Nashville residents to stay home. The order will be effective Sunday at midnight for at least 14 days, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health care system from being overwhelmed.
Residents can still travel for essential activities but need to stay at least six feet away from others. Essential activities include:
• Grocery, convenience or warehouse store
• Pharmacy or other health care necessities
• Medical appointments
• Restaurants for take-out, delivery or drive-thru
• Care for a friend or family member
• Going outside to exercise
• Walking pets or taking them to veterinary services
• Receiving deliveries
The order prohibits individuals from:
• Going to work unless employed by a business providing essential services
• Visiting friends and family if there is no urgent need
• Maintaining less the six feet of distance from others
• Visiting loved ones in hospitals, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities or residential care facilities
A full list of businesses considered essential under the order can be found here.