The Tennessee Department of Health has confirmed COVID-19 is spreading throughout the community, something they’ve been hesitant to share as they've sought to trace the origins of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus in the 18 confirmed cases throughout the state.
In an email to the our sister publication the Nashville Post, TDH spokesperson Shelley Walker said, “Many of our earliest cases have clear travel history out of Tennessee. As COVID-19 spreads in Tennessee, more cases will not have a travel history because they became infected in Tennessee. Investigations will be ongoing.”
Tennessee has had a slow start identifying cases throughout the state due to limited testing supplies from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. When the first case was confirmed, TDH had only 85 test kits on hand and had to follow strict testing criteria to most efficiently use their resources — disqualifying many who sought testing. The agency has not yet released data on how many people were initially turned away from testing.
Last Sunday, when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Davidson County in an adult woman with no travel history, state epidemiologist John Dunn contended the health department still had no evidence of community spread, and that the department was investigating how she became infected through a process called contact tracing.
TDH has since stopped reporting such details per case, including age, gender and how the individual contracted the virus, and they’ve been reluctant to speak on its spread.
On Thursday morning, Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world. Later in the day, TDH officials confirmed nine new coronavirus cases in the state, doubling the overall case count in the state to 18.
Lee had previously stated he would not declare an emergency unless he saw clusters of affected patients rising around the state.
TDH has also confirmed that its testing criteria have widened and that people deemed ineligible earlier this week for testing may now be able to get screened due to increased resources. Commercial labs are beginning to open up — including eight designated screening clinics throughout Vanderbilt University Medical Center's regional network and another major screening facility being constructed in the hospital's parking garage — and the public lab had the capacity to test 500 people as of Thursday morning. The public lab has tested 88 individuals in total and state officials have not yet released testing capacity data for commercial labs.
Walker said although testing criteria have been relaxed, the state is still not testing everyone. She reiterated that individuals still need to call their doctors to see if they meet the requirements to be screened.
“We are working to ensure that everyone that has a clinical picture consistent with COVID-19 can be tested. The 'worried well' or people with symptoms not associated with COVID-19 should not be assessed for COVID-19,” she told the Post.