Gov. Bill Lee has declared a state of emergency for Tennessee in response to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the world.
The move will ease the state’s access to the federal government’s more than $8 billion budget authorized last week to combat the outbreak and will open up the governor to a broad range of powers, including ordering evacuations and quarantines and allowing him to direct the national guard to assist in the response.
State officials so far have confirmed 18 cases of the novel coronavirus in Tennessee, however slow testing roll-out brings the validity of that number into question. Lee confirmed today at least two cases are hospitalized. Eight cases have been confirmed in Williamson County.
At least 23 other states have declared a state of emergency because of the coronavirus. Of those states, Maryland issued the declaration with three confirmed cases and Florida with two.
On Monday, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said “we weren’t there yet” and Lee told reporters he was looking for “clusters of affected patients” before making the declaration. As of Thursday morning, it had been almost a day since TDH provided an updated case-count.
The declaration comes a day after the World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, the first in history to be caused by a coronavirus. The last time the WHO declared a pandemic was in 2009 for the H1N1 outbreak, which infected nearly a quarter of the world's population.
Last updated Thursday morning, there have been 126,660 confirmed cases worldwide, with more than 1,321 cases and 38 deaths in the United States so far. Last night, President Donald Trump announced a 30-day travel ban from 26 European countries to stop the spread.
Tennessee officials are still having to limit COVID-19 testing because of the state’s sparse testing supplies, potentially hampering area efforts to track the virus, but on Thursday reported the number of tests they have on hand has more than doubled.
TDH now has more than 500 tests ready for use, officials confirmed, with more on the way. As testing capabilities continue to increase so will confirmed coronavirus cases around the state, Piercey told reporters on Monday. They have tested 88 people overall.
“The game is about to change for testing. We will very soon move from not just public state health lab testing, but also commercial availability. The state lab will continue to test, but the expanded capacity will be significantly expanded given the commercialization,” Piercey said.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center has already begun offering COVID-19 testing at eight designated screening facilities across Middle Tennessee and is currently converting a parking garage into a drive-up screening facility.
Metro updates guidance for large events
The Metro Public Health Department on Thursday cautioned the community about hosting meetings or events involving large numbers of people, especially if the event will include adults over the age of 60 or people with any chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease.
The health department also warned medically fragile citizens to avoid crowds and take preventative actions to protect their health.
In a statement, MPHD said:
MPHD encourages all meeting organizers and organizations to be aware of these risks as well, and to take reasonable steps for the protection of our most vulnerable citizens. Meeting organizers should look for alternative ways for people to participate if possible; by teleconference, for example, or in some other remote fashion. Churches could consider actions to protect their at-risk members.
Mayor John Cooper also is advising community members to practice social distancing, and to use preventative measures to protect immunodeficient individuals from getting sick. In a statement Thursday midday, Cooper said:
As Nashvillians continue to calmly heed the advice of our public health experts, I now urge everyone to carefully practice social distancing throughout our city – both for the sake of our entire community and particularly our neighbors who are most at risk of infection, including older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions.
As my administration works with state and federal officials and community partners to increase access to federal funding and testing capacity, I encourage everyone to take necessary precautions to prevent person-to-person spread. This includes postponing large public and private gatherings, encouraging teleconferencing and remote working, and taking all necessary precautions to protect employees, congregants, students, and all Nashvillians – especially our medically fragile residents.
Major events around Nashville continue to cancel or postpone. Earlier today, the Southeastern Conference 2020 Men's basketball tournament has been canceled and Major League Soccer has suspended its season for 30 days. Area schools have started to shutter, and significant public spaces are undergoing intense cleaning protocols.
The Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. announced Tuesday morning there have been 75 meeting cancellations and five other groups have reduced room blocks because of the coronavirus. The cancellations represent 53,000 lost room nights and approximately $25.7 million in lost direct revenue. We will update these numbers as information is received.