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.