KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee met with Knox County leaders Friday to lay out the local plan for the expected surge in coronavirus patients across the state.
State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs met with the governor to talk about expanding health care capability across the state and locally.
“We have a tremendous challenge ahead of us as Tennesseans,” Gov. Lee said. “We don’t know when that surge is coming or where it will be.”
“I appreciate how hard the Governor is working and I know he’s had a lot of sleepless nights,” Mayor Jacobs said. “Gov. Lee has the best interests of the people of Tennessee on his mind and in his heart, and both of us want the best for our communities and for our state.”
Lee said after talking with medical experts and viewing coronavirus model information that Tennessee will need 7,000 more beds than what is traditionally available across the state.
He said the focus right now is on finding accommodations, approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, that would be adequate for use as a makeshift care facility. The Music City Center in Nashville and the Knoxville Expo Center have already been identified as temporary medical facilities.
The task for the Knoxville and Knox County government is to work with local health care providers on how to implement care at the Expo Center and other facilities if needed.
The Expo Center will have 350 beds and will serve low-acuity COVID-19 patients that will not require a high level of care, Lee said. Beds are expected to be up in three weeks he said.
“The Expo Center will bring excess beds online and serve as a great alternative care site in the event that it is needed—which is vitally important,” Jacobs said.
Lee said Knoxville is looking at adding other sites as well.
The state is also working on maintaining and adding to its supply of personal protective equipment and ventilators. Lee said PPE has been shipped by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to each of the state’s 95 counties.
So far Lee says the state has been able to “stay above the need.”
“We want to make sure that emergency responders have the equipment they need,” he said, adding that Knox County recently received a shipment of supplies expected to last for the next 10 days. “We have had no one that has run out, and if they do, we need to hear about that though TEMA.”
Lee said projections for the state are calling for about 1,900 ventilators. There are currently 950 ventilators statewide not being used, and 500 have been ordered and expected to arrive before the surge. Lee also said by stopping elective surgeries across the state there are approximately “a couple hundred” ventilators available for use.
On top of needing more medical supplies, Lee said the state is wanting to recruit any healthcare worker who isn’t already in the battle against COVID-19.
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Businesses, UT offering support
Lee also expressed his support for businesses and offered thanks to companies and universities reaching out to help the state battle the coronavirus.
More than 400 companies and small businesses are working to provide equipment to fight COVID-19 in the state.
He said more than 10,000 face shields have been printed using 3D printers in state institutions.
“UT has been very engaged in creating ways to help out,” Lee said. “We ask anyone who has access to and opportuinty to help in this fight to do so.”
Lee also acknowledged the economic crisis as a result of the coronavirus and said small business owners have suffered the brunt of it.
The Paycheck Protection Program began today for small businesses and sole proprietorships. These businesses can receive loans to cover their payroll and other certain expenses through existing SBA
lenders, including local banks.
Contractors will be able to apply beginning April 10.
Executive order No. 23
Lee also addressed Executive Order 23 which added a stay-at-home requirement. He said his decision to issue the order on Thursday was a “very difficult decision that no one wants to make.”
The order was made based on social distancing and anonymous cell phone company data, especially over the last four or five days. Economic and mental health impact was also taken into consideration.
“If we want to mitigate the spread, it can’t be an option,” Lee said. “It really is a requirement to engage stay-at-home (orders).”
Local law enforcement across the state has been given information on how to implement compliance measures, Lee said. Businesses and individuals will be given information. on why the order was given and be given a chance to comply before more action is taken.
“I think we are in a very unusual day and there are very difficult decisions to be made,” Lee said. “Discerning the direction we take as a state is the primary job I have.
“I believe we’ve made the right decisions at the right times for this state. … We were one of the first five states in the country to test for COVID-19.
“No one knows the exact right approach.”