The first case of coronavirus has made its way to Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday.
“As of last night we have our first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Tennessee,” Lee said.
The patient is a 44-year-old man who lives in Williamson County who traveled out of state recently, but not internationally. He flew nonstop from Boston and Nashville International Airport on Feb. 27 but showed no symptoms while he was traveling.
Health officials did not identify the patient but said his case has so far been mild. They say they are coordinating with their counterparts in Massachusetts, but they are not trying to locate people who were on that flight because they don’t think he was infectious at the time.
“We have been anticipating identification of COVID-19 cases in Tennessee,” Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said. “We are now working closely with the CDC and local health care partners to identify this patient’s contacts and contain the spread of this disease in our community.”
On Thursday afternoon, Battle Ground Academy issued a statement saying that he is the parent of one of the school’s students, but it had no evidence that the student had been infectious at school.
Piercey said she has talked to the patient and that he is quarantined along with his family at his home in Williamson County.
“At this time, the overall risk to the general public remains low,” Piercey clarified.
Battle Ground Academy says it has been taking measures to prevent the spread of flu viruses, including deep cleaning and reminding teachers of health protocols. Nonetheless, BGA will be closed Friday as a precaution.
Williamson County Schools preemptively cancelled school on Friday and Monday for a “deep cleaning” out of “additional precaution.”
The state has tested roughly 10 patients for COVID-19 since Feb. 20, but until now, all those individuals have tested negative, Piercey said. The results from this positive test in Williamson County were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further confirmation.
The state has 85 test kits, which Piercey says is “plenty for now.” The state is still trying to assess how many masks and other resources it has.
Tennessee is now part of a growing list of states that have confirmed patients with the disease. Bordering states North Carolina and Georgia have also had cases.
Fear of ‘overreacting’
The news comes a day after Lee announced the creation of a coronavirus task force to develop “strong precautionary measures, resource allocation and emergency response plans.”
Lee told reporters Thursday that the public needs to avoid worrying excessively about the disease.
“I think that’s how we keep from overreacting,” Lee said. “We don’t want to understate the seriousness of the situation, but we also want to remind folks that keeping it in perspective is important — the vast number of cases are mild.”
Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said he has concerns about both the health and economic implications of the coronavirus in the state.
He said he expects “very difficult decisions” to be made in the next coming days.
“I think we’ve got to take care of the health of our community first,” Yarbro said. “But we also have to do what we can to really support small businesses that may be particularly affected here and to try to stave off any greater economic damage.”
This is a developing story.