The coronavirus outbreaks in Tennessee prisons, nursing homes and homeless shelters have pandemic modelers struggling even more to predict the future. They’re attempting to look beyond isolated outbreaks to see how the virus is spreading among the general population.
“These outbreaks make modeling very tricky,” health policy professor Melinda Buntin said Monday at Metro Nashville’s daily briefing. She chairs the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, which has been making predictions related to stay-at-home orders and hospital capacity.
Experts and the general public have been looking for signs that the pandemic is slowing, but the trend has been hard to follow. Daily cases numbers can jump substantially if there’s a one-day spike, as happened last Friday when the state announced the results of a prison outbreak.
Over this past weekend, more than 350 new cases appeared in Nashville, but the chair of the city’s coronavirus task force, Dr. Alex Jahangir, said it was not necessarily a sign of new community spread. Rather, more than 100 cases were from the city’s homeless shelters, where everyone was tested over the last week.
But Buntin says those outbreaks still can’t be overlooked.
“I hesitate to call them isolated, because of course these facilities all have staff who go home to their families, go to grocery stores and things like that,” she said.
On Sunday, WPLN News interviewed a woman who sought out free testing because the father of her children was one of 50 guards at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center to test positive. Buntin says contact tracing will become even more critical, to make sure anyone connected to these outbreaks gets tested immediately.