NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Doctors across Tennessee pleaded with Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday to take stronger action to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
In a webinar shortly before the governor’s daily briefing, Dr. Aaron Milstone warned that “without action, tens of thousands of Tennesseans may die of COVID-19.” Milstone is a pulmonary and critical care physician at Williamson Medical Center.
Lee on Sunday urged residents to work from home and ordered bars and restaurants to close for 14 days starting Monday with the exception of drive-thru, take-out and delivery services. Lee’s order also closed gyms and fitness centers, and he barred most visitors to nursing homes, retirement homes and long-term care facilities and prohibited social gatherings of 10 or more people.
On Tuesday, he went further, asking schools to remain closed until April 24 after previously urging them to remain closed until the end of the month, signaling that the state was preparing for a longer fight against the virus outbreak.
“We know that certainly the impacts in Tennessee are not going to be over by Easter and we’re planning for a long runway in both the economic impacts and the medical impacts,” Lee said during his daily briefing. He did not address the call from more than 2,000 health care providers across the state for an immediate stay-at-home order.
In Nashville, Mayor John Cooper on Sunday ordered that all nonessential businesses close for 14 days starting Monday.
Tennessee had 667 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday with two deaths so far. Milstone said Tennessee hospitals have “multiple patients on life support, fighting for their lives with COVID-19.” A majority of the patients are older or have underlying health conditions, but not all, Milstone said.
The global pandemic has killed more than 18,000 people worldwide, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For people with existing health problems and older adults, it can cause more severe illness requiring hospitalization.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Also on Tuesday, the Republican governor said the state would briefly halt issuing REAL IDs until May 18 after getting assurance from the federal government that the deadline for the public to have a REAL ID was going to be pushed back. Additionally, Lee stopped emissions testing.
Lee said 250 National Guard medical troops have been deployed to assist with virus testing sites, primarily in rural areas.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey noted that Tennessee had a disproportionately high rate of COVID-19 cases among 20- to 40-year-olds, warning that it was imperative for everyone to increase their social distancing. As of Tuesday, the state reported that more than 300 people between the ages of 20 and 40 had tested positive for COVID-19.
“You’re still at risk and you’re still putting others at risk,” she said.
In other developments, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials said on Tuesday that they are closing the nation’s most visited national park for two weeks after efforts to comply with social distancing failed. Around 30,000 people entered the park each day last week and some popular sites like Laurel Falls, Newfound Gap and Cades Cove were congested, according to a park statement.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Human Services is offering $10 million in emergency grants to licensed childcare agencies. The grants provide money to help with lost income, repairs, supplies and other disaster-related expenses. Grant money is also available for expenses related to recovery from the March 3 tornado.
Agencies can begin applying for the grants immediately. More information is available online.