The Tennessee Department of Health has identified 24,822 cases of COVID-19, including 16,319 recoveries, 1,829 hospitalizations and 388 fatalities as of June 3.
June 2, 2020, 5:00 pm
Coronavirus Hot Spot Persists In Southeast Nashville, Home To Diverse Communities
For more than eight weeks, Southeast Nashville has been the site of a coronavirus hot spot.
It’s home to some of the city’s most diverse communities. In Nashville and across the country, people of color are being disproportionately affected by the virus.
The Metro Public Health Department has published heat maps showing where new and active cases are clustered. They show that groups along the I-24 corridor have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus for the better part of two months.
A spokesperson for Metro Public Health says the department is focusing on testing and contact tracing to help contain the spread in South Nashville. The department’s contact tracing team has gone from four to more than 120 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Metro Public Health has also joined with non-profits to hire a multicultural team of community health workers to help inform immigrant and refugee populations about the virus. Still, that program took weeks to ramp up.
The department continues to encourage those concerned about the virus to call Metro’s hotline and get tested at a community assessment center, one of which is located at the former Kmart on Murfreesboro Pike in Antioch.
June 2, 2020, 4:01 pm
Tennessee Department Of Health Attributes Spike In Coronavirus Cases To Prison Outbreak
State health officials say nearly 800 Tennesseans have tested positive for the coronavirus, and about 350 are inmates at the Northwest Correctional Complex in West Tennessee. That brings the total number of cases at the prison to more than 700.
Nearly all of the inmates who tested positive during statewide mass testing at prisons in April had since recovered.
But last week, multiple inmates in different parts of the facility got sick. So, the state decided to retest all prisoners and employees who originally tested negative.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey says officials will retest inmates whenever they notice “community transmission” within a prison. That means multiple unrelated cases, with no known source of the virus.
More than 2,600 Tennessee prisoners have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. At one private prison, Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, about half of its 2,400 inmates tested positive.
The state-run Bledsoe County Correctional Complex also became a major hotspot, with about 600 cases. A WPLN News investigation found that inmates who tested negative were locked in cells with inmates who tested positive, if their roommates weren’t showing symptoms.
June 2, 2020, 2:05 pm
Metro Human Relations Commission Denounces COVID Data Sharing
Nashville’s Human Relations Commission is asking local officials to stop sharing COVID-19 patient data with law enforcement.
For weeks, the health department has been sharing the names and addresses of those who test positive for the virus with first responders. Health officials have defended the practice, saying the information lets first responders know when to suit up accordingly, if they might come into contact with someone who’s sick. They say it also allows hospital and jail staff prepare for someone who has tested positive entering their facility.
But the commission says black and immigrant communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and that those communities often distrust law enforcement — perhaps even more now than in the past.
Melody Fowler-Green, executive director of commission, said in an email to council members and local officials that first responders should have personal protective equipment for every call, since many carriers of the virus don’t even know they have it. She also said she worries that providing patient information to first responders could discourage residents from getting tested.
The governor recently ended a similar data sharing program between the state health department and local law enforcement. The policy had come under fire by both conservative privacy advocates, as well as minority rights groups.
June 2, 2020, 2:00 pm
Tennessee Governor Announces $200M In COVID-19 Relief Funds For Businesses
Tennessee businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can soon receive extra financial help from the state.
Gov. Bill Lee announced this morning that the state will dole out approximately $200 million in federal funds to small businesses in need, through the Tennessee Business Relief Program.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created immense economic pain across our state and especially among small businesses that faced temporary closure,” Lee said in a statement. “As we responsibly steward our federal stimulus money we have worked to quickly prioritize our small businesses.”
Grants will be available based on the amount of money a business earns in sales each year, with a cap of $500,000. The governor’s office says about 28,000 businesses across the state are expected to qualify.
Eligible businesses include barbershops, nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, restaurants, bars, hotels, theaters, museums, zoos amusement parks, arcades and bowling studios. Independent artists, event promoters and entertainment agents are also allowed to apply.
Other small businesses, such as furniture, clothing, jewelry, sporting goods and book stores are also eligible, if their sales dropped by at least 25% in April.
“While the COVID-19 crisis started as a public health crisis, the economic crisis it triggered is in some ways even more devastating. The burden the virus has placed on small businesses has been substantial,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said in a statement. “Our recovery from this economic disruption will be a slow process. But without small business, it doesn’t happen at all.”
Small businesses interested in applying can find more information on the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s website.
June 2, 2020, 4:00 am
Nashville’s COVID-19 Fatalities Have All Had Underlying Conditions, But What Does That Mean?
At least within the city of Nashville, everyone who has died from COVID-19 so far has had an underlying health condition. But that doesn’t mean all of them would be thought of as sickly.
The bar is really low for a pre-existing condition — simply being over 55 is one of them. The risk factors also include diabetes, hypertension and any sort of lung disease, including asthma. So someone who appears young and healthy could still categorize them as having an underlying health condition.
Though, there have been some steps the city has taken that may have saved lives. Dr. Alex Jahangir, Metro Board of Health chair, notes that Nashville was slightly ahead of other parts of the state and nation in testing for COVID-19.
“Part of it may be that we’ve just gotten lucky in our community, and we were able to get to people sooner because of our increased testing capacity,” he says.
Local health systems have also been very quick to check blood oxygen levels of people who test positive, which Jahangir says can provide early signs that someone will need medical attention.
It’s not that young people aren’t getting sick. Nearly half of Davidson County’s 5,200 cases have been in people aged 20 to 40.
But residents shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security, he says. Even just outside Nashville, people who were under 55 and didn’t have underlying conditions have died from COVID-19.
June 1, 2020, 7:19 am
Nashville’s Revised Live Music Guidelines Cap Volume, Add Temperature Checks
Live music has been back in Nashville for a week, and pandemic-related rules are already evolving.
They now include a cap on volume. A specific decibel level isn’t provided, but health leaders say music shouldn’t be so loud as to force staff and patrons to lean within 6 feet to talk.
Nashville’s revised public health order also now requires musicians and entertainers to get temperature checks and wellness screenings like other employees. Periodic testing of musicians can also be requested by management.
Venues are arranging stages to keep performers distanced from one another, as well as 15 feet from patrons.
“This past Friday … we announced that Nashville’s world-renowned live musicians and entertainers could return to restaurants and bars throughout Davidson County — under guidelines to keep .. themselves, staff and customers safe,” says Nashville Mayor John Cooper.
Musicians are mostly required to bring their own gear, with shared items like stools to be sanitized between performances.
May 29, 2020, 5:29 pm
Nashville Updates COVID Data Sharing Policy Amid Widespread Criticism
Nashville’s public health department says it’s updating a policy that shares the addresses of coronavirus patients with law enforcement. That’s after the program received widespread criticism from activists, state legislators and local lawmakers.
Public Health Director Michael Caldwell defended the practice Thursday, saying that sharing patient information had helped to protect first responders and prevent outbreaks in hospitals and jails.
“We have and we will continue all that we can to protect the public health workforce and our partners in a respectful and balanced approach,” he said at a Metro press briefing. “I am your director of public health, and I will use all tools in my toolbox to fight this deadly virus in our community.”
But the Tennessean reports several council members have criticized the policy and say it has made their constituents afraid to get tested. And according to the Tennessee Lookout, Councilmember Freddie O’Connell told health officials during a conference call Thursday that he’d stopped encouraging residents to visit the city’s public testing sites.
We proudly say that any Nashvillian who wants to get tested for #COVID19 can get a test.
But we ignore the chilling effect on voluntary testing by ignoring personal health privacy.
Until this policy changes, I have stopped aggressively encouraging testing.
— Freddie #StayHome O'Connell (@freddieoconnell) May 28, 2020
The legislative black caucus, the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition and other advocates for communities of color have also expressed misgivings, warning that such a policy could make people wary to get tested, out of fear that their personal information could be shared with law enforcement.
In response to those concerns, the Metro Public Health Department says it will delete the addresses of people who’ve tested positive from a database after 30 days. Names will also be purged each Monday, so that anyone who has recovered during the week will be removed.
Plus, people who get tested at community assessment centers will now be informed that their addresses will be provided to first responders if they test positive.
The health department says all information is “kept secure” and shared so that firefighters, emergency medical personnel and police know to use extra personal protective equipment and social distancing protocols when responding to an address where someone has COVID-19. Officials say the policy also allows first responders to alert hospitals or the sheriff’s office if they’re transporting someone who has tested positive to their facility.
Caldwell says the policy is “temporary” and “working.” Gov. Bill Lee canceled a similar state-wide data sharing program earlier this week, saying it was no longer necessary, due to increased availability of personal protective equipment. State health officials say first responders should treat all people as potentially positive for the coronavirus.
May 29, 2020, 2:21 pm
New Charts From Vanderbilt Show How Tennesseans’ Travel Patterns Have Changed Throughout The Pandemic
A report out Friday from Vanderbilt University researchers shows Tennesseans’ travel activity dropped steeply after the state’s first coronavirus case was detected, even before a statewide stay-at-home order was issued.
The report used anonymized cellphone data to create charts that detail how mobility plunged in March and has remained low in some regions and business sectors.
The first chart shows the timing of reduced travel activities, and how all regions have begun increasing their mobility since restrictions have started to lift. “Non-metro areas of the state have seen larger increases in movement after the Safer at Home order expired on May 1,” the report says.
The second chart shows what may seem like common sense: travel to areas that were most impacted by the coronavirus decreased significantly more than travel to areas that were least impacted.
The report says “the most affected areas continue to see substantially lower economic activity.” It says that suppressing the spread of the virus should be a top priority to prevent further negative economic impacts.
The final chart shows how different types of businesses have seen a range of changes.
Grocery stores, for example, saw minimal drops in visits compared to other sectors. Meanwhile, child care facilities saw their visits plummet in March. Trips to day care services remains well below half of what it was a year ago.
View the whole report with charts here.
May 29, 2020, 11:08 am
Under Threat Of Penalties, Tennessee Extends Deadline For Nursing Home Testing
Tennessee has extended the May 31 deadline for nursing homes to test all residents and staff for the coronavirus until the end of June, and is now requiring that employees get retested every seven days.
Failure to comply could result in license revocation or civil penalties, according to a report released by the Unified Command Group on Friday.
On Thursday, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said it had already been a “massive undertaking” but that only 60% of facilities had completed or scheduled mass testing. In all, Tennessee has 140,000 residents in 700 long-term care facilities. A total of 60 facilities have reported at least a few positive cases.
Piercey says a fifth of facilities didn’t have enough protective equipment and another fifth didn’t have enough staff. So the state is providing the masks and gowns needed for initial testing and sending medics from the Tennessee National Guard when needed.
But the state is paying for the testing — both by reimbursing nursing homes that have their own lab facilities or by paying commercial labs to process the swabs. A breakdown provided to WPLN News shows the health department owes nursing homes $300,000 for testing.
Residents and staff members are allowed to refuse testing, according to the Unified Command’s report. But they have to sign a statement to document the refusal. Staff who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies can also be exempted.
As nursing homes struggle with infection control, many are having trouble staffing their facilities. The state has relaxed training requirements for both certified nurse aides and feeding assistants.
Nursing homes have been the hardest hit settings for COVID-19, accounting for 40% of the state’s 356 deaths thus far. At the Gallatin Center for Health and Rehabilitation, 23 residents have died. In Murfreesboro, 11 residents of Boulevard Terrace Health and Rehabilitation have died.
May 28, 2020, 4:54 pm
New Coronavirus Cases At Tennessee Prison Prompt Another Round Of Mass Testing
All but a handful of the more than 2,600 Tennessee inmates who tested positive for the coronavirus have since recovered, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Correction.
But four new cases — including one hospitalization — at the Northwest Correctional Complex have prompted another round of mass testing. All inmates and staff at the Tiptonville prison who initially tested negative will be retested this week.
State health commissioner Lisa Piercey says that will happen whenever unrelated cases start to pop in correctional facilities.
“It would not surprise me if we had to do that at another one of the prison facilities, because the risk factors really haven’t changed much,” she says. “Staff are still coming and going into the community, and they’re still in a congregate care setting, where they could be at high risk for very quick transmission.”
Piercey says mass testing won’t happen each time new cases are detected, especially if they’re isolated within a certain living unit. But if community transmission is detected — meaning that the virus is spreading in different parts of the facility — there will be a sweeping response.
Gov. Bill Lee announced on May 1 that all inmates and employees at state prisons would be tested for COVID-19 after more than 1,300 prisoners and staff tested positive at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center. Most facilities reported only a few of cases. But others, like Northwest, confirmed hundreds of positive tests.
A WPLN News investigation found that at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, which reported over 600 cases among its inmates and staff, prisoners who tested positive were locked in cells with roommates who tested negative, as long as they weren’t showing symptoms.
A TDOC spokesperson said at the time that cellmates who tested negative were “presumed positive,” because they had been exposed to the virus for an extended period of time. But they were not included in the official case counts.
Health commissioner says mass testing threshold is also low for nursing homes
The health commissioner says the same logic will be applied for testing in nursing homes and other facilities where large groups of vulnerable individuals are living together. The Lee administration had set a goal of testing everyone in the state’s 700 long-term care facilities by the end of this month.
Piercey says about 60% of those tests have either been completed or scheduled. Officials are giving other nursing homes a grace period, while they coordinate with the Tennessee National Guard to provide additional personnel. The state hopes to have the testing finished within the next few weeks.
And even after the mass testing is done, Piercey says employees will be retested on a regular basis, to ensure they’re not bringing the virus into the building. She says the state has also allocated more than $350,000 to improve the quality of care in nursing homes during the pandemic, through virtual programming and telehealth.