coronavirus 3

The Tennessee Department of Health has confirmed nine cases of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, in Tennessee as of Wednesday midday. 

Five cases are in Williamson County, two cases in Davidson County, one in Shelby County and one in Sullivan County. State health officials still say the overall risk to the public still remains low, despite limited testing capacity possibly skewing confirmed case data.

On Wednesday morning, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

"In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside has increased 13-fold and the number of affected countries has tripled. There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives," WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a media briefing Wednesday.

Gov. Bill Lee announced the first case of coronavirus in Tennessee on March 5. The state has received $10 million from the federal government for response efforts, money The Tennessean has reported Lee is deciding how to put to use.

 
No state of emergency, yet

Lee told reporters Tuesday the current situation does not yet warrant declaring a state of emergency, which would ease the state’s access to the federal government’s more than $8 billion budget authorized last week to combat the outbreak.

At least 12 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. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday declared a state of emergency after seven people were diagnosed with the virus.

TDH Commissioner Lisa Piercey told reporters on Monday she didn’t “believe we were there yet.”

 
Testing woes

Tennessee officials are having to limit COVID-19 testing because of the state’s sparse testing supplies, potentially hampering area efforts to track the virus. 

Piercey said testing capabilities will expand in the next one to two weeks as more test kits arrive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as commercial players. She says the state will start seeing the impact of that additional testing capacity in a higher rate of confirmed coronavirus cases.

“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.

As of Tuesday evening, TDH has tested 57 individuals for the novel coronavirus, 50 were negative and seven were positive. State officials will be providing an update on testing capacity at the end of the week.

 
State reporting

On Monday morning, TDH officials announced they would not be reporting the counties in which coronavirus cases have been confirmed, rather identifying cases by grand division. They cited patient privacy protection laws and fears of identifying patients in rural areas.

The agency backtracked on this decision Tuesday evening under pressure from community members and public officials and said they would begin reporting county-level data again. TDH has established an around-the-clock web page for information on the coronavirus and created a public information hotline to help coordinate coronavirus testing. The number is 877-857-2945 and is often busy, individuals may have to call multiple times. 

The website provides limited data compared to other states currently facing the outbreak. State health department sites for Washington and Illinois, for example, report the number of cases confirmed, testing data and counties where coronavirus has been detected. The Tennessee site only includes a summary of the virus and the number of cases confirmed overall in the state.

As of 10:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, TDH has added testing capacity data and case count by county to its site. 

 
Insurers plan to cover the cost

The Department of Commerce and Insurance on Tuesday announced that all state-licensed medical insurers will cover all costs for coronavirus testing.

The department will also collect data from the commercial payers regarding care rendered to coronavirus patients.

The state has not implemented any additional programs to reimburse medical providers for testing and care for uninsured patients, and neither has the federal government. On Monday, Piercey said the state will provide care to uninsured patients the way it always does: through safety-net facilities and charity care protocols. 

Last week, the American Hospital Association pushed the Trump administration to use a national disaster program to pay hospitals and doctors 110 percent of Medicare rates for coronavirus treatment and tests they render to uninsured patients. No such move has been made as of Tuesday night.

 
Court urges sick to stay home

Officials at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee in Memphis are telling people who recently traveled to Italy, Iran, South Korea or China, have made contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19 or are exhibiting cold or flu symptoms to not show up to the court under any circumstances.

In a notice to attorneys, the court clerk said a notice will be posted at the courthouse’s screening areas to remind individuals coming in, but that court safety officers “cannot and will not enforce these entry requirements.” 

Neither state nor federal courts in Nashville has taken similar precautions. Memphis so far has one confirmed case of the coronavirus; Middle Tennessee has the state’s other five.

 
Community response

While schools close and events cancel around Nashville, state officials continue to release guidance saying it is not necessary at this time.

Vanderbilt University and Belmont University have both postponed in-person classes through the end of March and are beginning to transition all courses online. Vanderbilt officials noted they may extend the web-based approach through the rest of the spring semester. 

Williamson County Schools are closed again Wednesday and Battle Ground Academy, a private school in Franklin, has shut down for the rest of the week, as four confirmed cases have come from Williamson County and two BGA students receive testing for coronavirus.

Metro Nashville Public Schools have not shut down but have been able to deep clean buildings due to shutdowns caused by the tornado last Tuesday. The confirmed coronavirus patient in Nashville does not have children in the Metro school system. On Sunday, after the Davidson County case was reported, Mayor John Cooper said he does not plan to cancel large events or shut down schools in the near future. 

Confirmed cases have visited the Nashville International Airport, AT&T Tower and a Williamson County school. BNA and AT&T Tower remain open and have implemented around-the-clock cleaning protocols in line with the Center for Disease Control guidance. 

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.

For more background information on the current state of the coronavirus outbreak in Tennessee, click here

 
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 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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