The Tennessee Department of Health has identified 51,431 total cases, 2,871 total hospitalizations and 646 total fatalities from COVID-19 as of July 5. Total cases grew by 1,291 on Sunday, continuing a streak of elevated daily counts. The number of cases considered “active” also hit a new high of 20,531.
July 6, 2020, 4:46 am
Where To Get Tested In Tennessee Without Symptoms And Without Paying
Demand for COVID-19 testing is expected to surge again this week, following the Independence Day holiday when many families and friends gathered despite the cancellation of many public events. And while Tennesseans have been encouraged to get tested, even without symptoms, finding the right testing site has remained a challenge because private providers often won’t test without symptoms.
For many, their first call is to their doctor, but very few primary care practices are offering coronavirus testing in the first place. Many have found it too difficult to maintain the infection control and carry on with typical business.
There are some new walk-in clinics that specialize in COVID-19 testing, such as Complete Health Partners which is offering curbside testing. CVS has even started offering a drive-up option in Tennessee with its Minute Clinics.
Many patients have been surprised that they do need symptoms, direct contact with someone who has COVID-19 or other risk factors to get a test at a private provider. But that’s because those providers need to justify the medical appropriateness if health insurance is going to cover the full cost.
Confusion persists because many of the private sites are listed on the state’s map showing COVID-19 testing locations. But only health department locations are truly free, don’t try to charge insurance and have no request to call ahead.
In many counties, the National Guard is helping to run these sites. In Nashville, Meharry Medical College has taken charge in running three drive-thru sites. The hours vary by location, and there have been lines of an hour or more in recent days, but it’s the quickest way to get a purely precautionary test.
Receiving results is taking a bit more time these days because of the record numbers being tested each day. While some will still get an answer in 48 hours, for others, it’s been three days or more.
July 3, 2020, 5:49 pm
Tennessee Counties Will Be Allowed To Mandate Masks, Per Latest Order From Governor
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order late Friday that allows local governments across the state to mandate masks to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The order applies to the 89 counties that don’t have their own health departments. Davidson, Shelby, Hamilton, Knox, Sullivan and Madison counties are excluded from the order, as they already had the authority to mandate masks. Davidson, Shelby and Knox counties have done so.
The governor’s order comes after an escalating increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state, with daily and weekly records being set (see infographics by WPLN News).
“Our local governments expressed a need for greater flexibility in addressing a rise in cases and that includes setting stronger expectations around masks,” the governor said in a statement. “This targeted approach ensures we protect both lives and livelihoods and safely keep our economy open in Tennessee. We encourage every Tennessean across the state to use a face covering or mask, make sure to socially distance and wash hands frequently.”
The governor’s order will be in effect through Aug. 3. The full order is posted as a PDF.
The order gives some guidance to local governments, including implementing the following mask-wearing exemptions:
- homes and automobiles (unless transporting others for hire)
- children 12 and younger
- while eating or drinking
- people who have trouble breathing due to medical conditions
- anyone who is unable to remove a face mask without assistance
- while outdoors and working (unless unable to maintain 6 feet of distance from non-household members)
- while casting a vote or administering an election
- while in a house of worship unless required by the entity
- in circumstances where wearing a mask poses a threat to public safety
The change comes as local mayors have expressed interest in mask mandates, and frustration about state limits on their local power. That includes Wilson County’s mayor.
As recently as Wednesday, the governor and his health commissioner said they wouldn’t mandate masks. But they had adjusted an early stance as to what county leaders could do, saying that the relationship between state and local powers was being reviewed. Previously, leaders in Chattanooga had bristled at restrictions.
Nashville health officials took things a step further on Thursday by reverting the city back to Phase Two of its reopening plan. As of Friday, health inspectors were empowered to enforce the mask mandate with penalties.
Cases and hospitalizations setting records
Meanwhile on Friday, the number of cases in the state grew by 1,822 — setting another new record for a 24-hour period and bringing the total number of identified cases to 48,712. Testing has also increased, but not at the same pace. The state has seen a 7% positivity rate in the past two weeks, which is above the 5% total for the pandemic.
In the past two weeks, Tennessee is averaging more than 1,000 new cases, 42 new hospitalizations and eight additional deaths per day.
Earlier this week, Lee extended a state of emergency order until Aug. 29, and expressed concern about the rising number of cases in Sevier, Macon, Bradley and Rutherford counties.
July 3, 2020, 4:19 am
Interactive Data: Tennessee’s Worsening Spread Of COVID-19 In 4 Charts
Now in Week 17 of the coronavirus pandemic in Tennessee, it might be easy to think things are back to normal.
Restaurants and businesses have reopened. And people’s faces are visible out in public, as evidenced by survey findings that just one in five Tennesseans is wearing a mask. Special rules, in many places, have expired.
But when you look at the numbers, the situation is far from normal.
Tennessee’s total cases continue to rise — to more than 45,000 as of Thursday. While any transferrable disease will accumulate cases over time, a clearer and more timely picture emerges when viewing how the state is reporting daily increases in cases.
A real rise in new cases began in late April and see-sawed through May before what has become an accelerating increase through June. At the start of the month, the average for newly reported cases was 396 per day. By the end of the month, it had more than doubled to 834 on average. As of Thursday, two days into July, the rate has grown to 1,002 new cases per day.
The same goes for “active” cases, which also doubled in June to nearly 16,000. “Active” factors in how many people have recovered, reflecting a current snapshot of those with the coronavirus. As of Thursday, the number of active cases in the state has never been higher, at just under 18,000.
And simply put, this isn’t just a case of more testing finding more cases. Although testing has also roughly doubled, the positive rate has moved up to about 7%.
So, how did we get here?
Spread and hotspots
Tennessee’s first case of the coronavirus was confirmed on March 5 in Williamson County, just two days after deadly tornadoes cut through Middle Tennessee. In under three months, the virus reached every corner of the state — with at least one case confirmed in all 95 counties by Week 11.
Reach doesn’t equate to intensity though. The last holdout in the state, Hancock County in East Tennessee, still has only three confirmed cases.
By comparison, the two worst hotspots in the state — Nashville and Memphis — have had more than 10,000 cases each.
Though Davidson and Shelby Counties are neck-and-neck in this losing race, Shelby makes up more than 75% of cases in West Tennessee. Davidson, on the other hand, makes up just 44% of Middle Tennessee cases.
That’s because Nashville is surrounded by other growing hotspots. Rutherford County has reported more than 2,700 cases, closely followed by Sumner, Williamson and Trousdale Counties — the latter of which saw a 1,300-person outbreak at the state’s largest prison.
Overall, Middle Tennessee makes up more than half of the coronavirus cases statewide.
An uptick in truly sick patients
The severity of COVID-19 on an individual level is better gauged by the trend in hospitalizations. There are now more COVID-19 patients in Tennessee hospitals than at any prior time during the pandemic — although state health officials say they still make up just 5% of patients, and that bed capacity is generally stable.
The number of new hospitalizations climbed in June, but not at the same rate as the new cases statewide.
The proportion of those who tested positive who are then hospitalized has actually decreased from 8% to 6% in the last month, and with it, the fatality rate for the virus has ticked down.
Yet in the last month, almost as many people died in Tennessee from the coronavirus as in the three months preceding June. As of May 31, 364 Tennesseans had died. As of Thursday, the death toll was 620.
The elderly make up a small share of overall cases (gray bars), but a disproportionate share of deaths (black bars).
Nearly two-thirds of deaths in Tennessee have been people over age 71, even though that population makes up just 6% of cases.
Meanwhile, residents 21 to 30 make up 22% of total cases and make up less than 1% of deaths.
July 2, 2020, 1:35 pm
Nashville Jail Cases Climbing, Forcing A Staffing Shift
Climbing infections inside a Nashville jail is forcing a change in how correctional officers do their work. Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall says that 30 employees will be moved from normal duties into correctional officer positions at a facility in South Nashville.
The number of inmates testing positive for the coronavirus has jumped to 180, from just one inmate 10 days ago. Nearly 200 more are under restrictions.
Jail staff has been hit hard as well, with 24 employees positive and more awaiting results.
The sheriff says inmate movement is being halted, and some functions of his department will slow down, like delivery of civil warrants and bulk-item pickup.
Orders of protection, however, and other emergency orders, will not be slowed.
July 2, 2020, 11:37 am
Tennessee Unemployment Has Improved, But Filings Are Up The Past 2 Weeks
For the second week in a row, Tennessee has seen an uptick in the number of people newly applying for unemployment, with more than 22,000 filings last week.
New claims had been slowly trending downward from April highs, when more than 115,000 Tennesseans applied in a single week. But now they’re up about 10% from mid-June, even as many businesses around the state have reopened.
Statewide, more than 250,000 people are relying on unemployment assistance, which has been heavily bolstered by $600 federal CARES Act payments. Those are set to expire at the end of July.
It’s unclear whether Congress will extend the expanded unemployment assistance.
July 2, 2020, 9:35 am
Nashville Backtracks On Reopening, Canceling Fireworks And Closing Bars As The Coronavirus Surges
For weeks, Nashville officials dismissed the possibility the city would need to move backward on its reopening plan. But that’s exactly what they did this morning.
More than 600 new cases were confirmed on Thursday — by far, a record one-day count.
“Nashville faces another challenge in a season of challenges,” Mayor John Cooper said. “Our Phase Three has not been effective. We are going to go back to what we know is effective in slowing the spread of the disease.”
A modified Phase Two will close bars for at least two weeks, starting Friday.
Bars haven’t been forced to close since the initial shutdown. But health officials say they’ve seen “record clusters” related to the city’s bars in recent weeks. Dr. Alex Jahangir, who chairs the coronavirus task force, says he began to be alerted about outbreaks at 10 bars on Saturday resulting in 30 cases so far.
“I hope very quickly we can see a stabilization and a downward trend,” says Jahangir, who is a trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He says there’s no time to wait for the mask mandate to improve infection rates. “If somebody’s bleeding out, I’m not going to wait and see if the bleeding stops because I gave them some medicine.”
Restaurants will still be able to operate at half capacity. That includes some downtown establishments aimed at tourists that derive at least 50% of their revenue from food.
Protests will not be prevented out of protection of First Amendment rights. Recent marches and demonstrations still have not resulted in clusters of cases, health officials say.
But other gatherings of more than 25 people are not allowed under Phase Two. The abbreviated fireworks show planned for the Fourth of July has been canceled.
Hoping ‘this gets everyone’s attention’
Parks will be allowed to remain open since they haven’t been a problem. It’s unclear whether schools would be allowed to reopen as planned next month.
“We want to get schools back,” Cooper said. “I hope this gets everyone’s attention.”
Nearly every metric has been going the wrong direction. But the most concerning to public health officials is the 14-day average, which has surged into unacceptable territory at 209 per day.
The positivity rate has also increased to 11%, meaning more than one in 10 people getting a test are turning out positive — a record high.
This week, the Metro Board of Health mandated masks in Davidson County in a last-ditch effort to slow the spread without reinstating restrictions on daily life. Enforcement with penalties begins on Friday along with the new Phase Two.
“Unfortunately, this scenario was both predictable and predicted by public health experts,” says Dr. James Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College. “What’s happening is a failure of responsibility when we have 600 cases in a single day, and we can’t go on like that.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that some downtown establishments could remain open under Phase 2.
July 1, 2020, 5:18 pm
Tennessee Officials Encourage — But Not Mandating — Face Coverings As Infections Climb
As the number of COVID-19 cases in Tennessee continue rising, state officials are again stressing the importance of wearing masks.
On Wednesday, the state reported 1,806 new cases of coronavirus. Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told reporters that the growth cannot be attributed to just more testing.
She said the state is seeing a growth in cases in rural counties, and this shows people are going out and about without taking precautions.
“This is not the time to get back to normal,” Piercey said. “We are all experiencing what we call quarantine fatigue. But I can guarantee you, this virus is not getting tired.”
Piercey said people need to continue to use face coverings and keep social distance if they want to stop the spread.
“You’ve seen pictures of people crowded into spaces, whether it’d be graduations or bars, and it looks exactly like it would have looked a year ago,” Piercey said.
Davidson and Shelby counties have mandated the use of masks in public spaces. But, Gov. Bill Lee says his administration is not considering a statewide order.
Instead, Lee says he’s working to clarify whether smaller counties have the authority to do so on their own.
July 1, 2020, 4:47 am
Nashville To Provide Hotel Rooms And Cash In Effort To Halt Coronavirus Hotspots In Immigrant Communities
Nashville’s health department is focusing its coronavirus response on hot spots among immigrant communities in Antioch and Madison. A key part of a new plan described Tuesday will provide hotel rooms to isolate positive patients.
Multigenerational households, which are common with immigrant families, have also made them more susceptible to the pandemic. Other cities have tried quarantine sites, even early on in the pandemic. And Metro Public Health Department epidemiologist Leslie Waller says Nashville is ready to do it too.
The commitment means partnering with community groups to pay for hotel rooms and, if needed, providing cash assistance while the patient is out of work.
“Over the last couple of months, we’ve tried some things and had to make some quick realizations to expand and change course,” she says. “Ultimately, [we] provide those financial and economic support structures so we could actually more successfully help people isolate from their families or roommates.”
Waller outlined the plan Tuesday in a meeting with Metro Council members from southeast Davidson County, which has one of the city’s highest concentration of immigrant families.
The health department has also planned a marketing push with billboards and radio spots in Spanish-language media. They’re looking for recovered patients who may be willing to share their personal testimony as part of the campaign.
Waller says she’s in the final stage of hiring five fluent Spanish speakers so that contact tracers and outreach workers can stop relying on translation services.
The city also plans to offer more coronavirus testing on nights and weekends in the hotspots, so it’s more convenient for workers.
Immigrant advocates have been calling for more help in recent weeks, and not just in Nashville. Statewide, more than a quarter of all cases are among the Hispanic population, despite making up fewer than 7% of the total population.
The concentration of cases among immigrant communities was identified months ago, and now as many as 80% of the new coronavirus cases in Nashville are the result of family transmission.
Nashville officials say they’re now ready to respond.
“We have a really good plan with public health,” says Ben Eagles, senior adviser to Mayor John Cooper. “It’s time for them to execute it.”
June 30, 2020, 2:49 pm
Masks — And Difficulties Mandating Them — Draw Reactions From Tennessee Mayors
As cases of the coronavirus climb statewide, local leaders across Tennessee are wrestling with how to reduce the spread, and reacting to limitations that prevent them from mandating masks like in Nashville.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger tells the Times Free Press he’s been hesitant about pandemic mandates — hoping residents would willingly abide by guidelines — but that he is considering his options.
And last week, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke asked the state for mandate power after his city was ranked second on a New York Times list of places with the highest average daily growth rate for COVID-19 deaths.
Mayors in Rutherford County and its independent cities say they’ve also received calls, emails and social media requests to follow Nashville’s lead in issuing a mask mandate.
But it’s not that simple.
The governor’s office says officials in those areas wouldn’t have the power to enforce mandates. Hamilton and Rutherford are not among the six counties in Tennessee with their own health departments to issue orders.
Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland acknowledges in a news release that his office cannot enforce a public health order “stricter than, or in any way different from, the Governor’s order.”
La Vergne Mayor Jason Cole says the dramatic rise in cases shows residents aren’t ready for “business as usual,” and encourages them to take the precautions recommended by public health experts.
Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed says she understands people’s desire to regain some sense of normalcy, but she says, “it’s going to take everyone doing their part.”
Wilson County’s mayor also issued a strongly worded mask message, but later noted the limits of his powers.
A report last week showed Tennessee among the states with the lowest levels of mask wearing, with fewer than one in five residents wearing one in public.
June 30, 2020, 1:16 pm
Nashville Electric Will Extend Billing Leniency As Thousands Request Help
Thousands of Nashvillians have struggled to pay their electric bills during the pandemic, so the city’s power utility is extending a trio of leniency policies through the end of July.
Nashville Electric Services announced Tuesday that it will hold off on disconnecting power and continue waiving late fees and absorbing the processing costs for credit card transactions
The agency cites “uncertain economic times” and the disasters of tornado, pandemic, and economic downturn.
NES says it did not act on approximately 23,000 possible disconnections, and that it has waived $1.9 million in late fees since March.
Customers will still be expected to catch up on their base bills. Those who still owe will start to be charged overdue amounts. Those costs will be spread into installments over the next 12 months. Late fees will not be charged again until Aug. 1.
As part of the pandemic response, Piedmont Natural Gas also halted disconnections.
Metro Water, meanwhile, stopped charging late fees and says it has collected most of what it’s billing. The utility tells WPLN News that 315 water customers have requested payment deferrals.
More information about city services and pandemic aid are on asafenashville.org.
This story was updated to reflect a new count provided Tuesday by Metro Water.