Health officials in Nashville and statewide are optimistic after weeks of generally improving metrics related to the pandemic. Here are some reasons to believe that Tennessee might be turning the corner.
1. Deaths are down
Even fatalities, which tend to stay high even after new cases and hospitalizations decline, have started a sustained drop-off statewide. This is expected to continue because hospitalizations are down, with fewer than a thousand COVID patients statewide.
2. People in nursing homes have been vaccinated
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have completed their vaccinations in Tennessee. This doesn’t mean every resident has been inoculated. Some passed up the opportunity since no one can be forced to get a vaccine. Many staffers at long-term care facilities still haven’t come around either. But nursing homes proved to be the most deadly site for COVID-19 with more than 2,500 fatalities in Tennessee.
3. Nashville is out of the danger zone
It’s not just that key numbers are down. They’re all heading in the right direction. For the first time in months, Nashville has no metrics in the red zone. They’re all in the green, except for hospital capacity and cases per 100,000 people, which still need further improvement to move from yellow.
4. The pandemic is being contained
The transmission rate in Nashville has hit its lowest point since the pandemic began, at 0.75 new transmissions per positive case. This means that for every four people who test positive for the coronavirus, just three others get sick. The change sounds small, but it leads to rapid containment of viral spread.
On the flip side, a rate above 1.0 means the virus is spreading. For many weeks in the pandemic, it was 1.25, which meant the spread was virtually uncontrolled.
5. Vaccines are becoming easier to get
Access to COVID vaccines widens by the day. There are now many (virtual) lines for people to join. For example, a Walmart on Charlotte Ave. in Nashville is having a five-day mass vaccination campaign. And city officials say they’re receiving larger shipments every week, with 12,000 doses expected next week. At this point, 50% of Nashville residents age 70 and older have had at least one dose.
Numbers to watch going forward:
The positivity rate did jump a tad in the last week. Health officials believe this is an anomaly since access to testing was severely limited by snow and ice. And when it’s harder to get a test, it tends to be mostly people who are actually sick making the effort. Still, the statewide positivity rate has remained below 10%, an encouraging sign.
Vaccination numbers could increase rapidly if Johnson & Johnson’s candidate receives authorization in the coming days. Nashville health officials expect those doses, which require only a single shot, could be available soon after FDA authorization, which is expected.
Still, new cases could come roaring back. Even a big day or two could be cause for concern. Schools are offering classes in person. Nashville is dropping more restrictions on the size of gatherings. And the sense is that life is returning to something like normal. Altogether, this could lead to more spread if people abandon mask wearing and social distancing.