coronavirus

Tennessee to shutter all 56 state parks

A workout area is taped off in Nashville due to the coronavirus pandemic on April 2, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

All 56 state parks and natural areas will be closed to the public for 10 days starting Saturday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We decided to close the parks in support of Governor Lee’s Executive Order 23,” state Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers said in a release. “The health and safety of Tennessee citizens is all of our top priority right now.”

The decision follows Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order on Thursday requiring Tennesseans to stay at home for all but essential activities.

From urging to requiring: Lee makes stay-at-home mandatory

Source: Gov. Bill Lee’s office.

Gov. Bill Lee is ramping up his stay-at-home directive, moving from urging people to avoid all non essential activities to requiring it. The move follows an uptick in traffic and movement around the state.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. –  Tennessee Governor Bill Lee will sign Executive Order 23 requiring that Tennesseans stay home unless they are carrying out essential activities as data shows an increase in citizen movement across the state.

“Over the last few weeks, we have seen decreases in movement around the state as Tennesseans socially distance and stay at home,” said Gov. Lee. “However, in recent days we have seen data indicating that movement may be increasing and we must get these numbers trending back down. I have updated my previous executive order to clearly require that Tennesseans stay at home unless they are carrying out essential activities.”

Data from the Tennessee Department of Transportation analyzed traffic patterns for March 2020. While safer at home measures and further restrictions on businesses showed a steep drop-off in vehicle movement from March 13-29, data beginning on March 30 indicates travel is trending upwards, again.

The Administration also analyzed data from Unacast to understand cell phone mobility and determine movement trends among people. Unacast indicates the movement of Tennesseans is trending toward pre-COVID-19 levels.

“The month of April stands to be an extremely tough time for our state as we face the potential for a surge in COVID-19 cases,” said Lee. “Every Tennessean must take this seriously, remain at home and ensure we save lives.”

The executive order remains in effect until April 14, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. Gov. Lee will address these measures in the press briefing today at 3 p.m. CDT.

Lee warns lawmakers of ‘surge’ in coronavirus hospitalizations

Gov. Bill Lee is warning state lawmakers  a “surge” in coronavirus infections could overwhelm the state’s healthcare system in the next two to four weeks.

Lee made his comments in a conference call with lawmakers on Wednesday. The Daily Memphian reports that Lee’s “unified command” is basing its efforts to respond to the crisis on modeling of the outbreak.

“We know based on modeling we’re looking at that we will have a bed shortage, both with hospital beds as well as ICU beds. We’re taking that very seriously,” Stuart McWhorter, the head of the governor’s task force on COVID-19 said during the call. “We’re looking at the best data we have right now to try to look at what Tennessee will look like over the next two to four weeks and taking it very seriously.”

Byrd cites coronavirus as reason for about-face on running for re-election

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meeting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Despite promising Republican House colleagues behind closed doors he wouldn’t seek re-election — and later making similar pledges to the public — state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) is seeking another term.

Byrd made the announcement to the Wayne County News, claiming he had heard from “hundreds of constituents” asking him to remain in the House. Byrd, who was deposed as a subcommittee chairman last year amid a drumbeat of protests over allegations of sexual misconduct when he was a high school basketball coach, said the coronavirus pandemic has underscored “the importance of having an experienced legislator to answer the calls, texts, and emails of numerous concerned constituents.”

“For District 71 to have a freshman Representative during this crucial time could definitely result in our rural counties being overlooked in future key legislation that could help our constituents rebound from this devastating pandemic,” Byrd wrote.

University of Tennessee courses to remain online-only through summer

Interim President Randy Boyd gives the State of the University Address at the Nashville Public Library in 2019. (Photo credit: University of Tennessee)

The University of Tennessee’s courses will remain online-only through the summer in response to the coronavirus pandemic, system President Randy Boyd announced Wednesday.

Here’s the full release from UT:

KNOXVILLE – University of Tennessee System President Randy Boyd – in consultation with chancellors at UT Knoxville, UT Chattanooga, UT Martin and the UT Health Science Center – has announced that summer session classes at all campuses will be delivered online in response to COVID-19.  At UTHSC, clinical rotations in hospitals will continue with students following COVID-19 protocol.
 
“Our faculty and staff have done an incredible job of moving to an entirely digital platform for the spring semester,” Boyd said.  “I am confident they will continue to provide an inspired learning experience for our students who are enrolled in summer classes.”
 
Since moving to an online platform, UT campuses have provided an estimated 9,300 classes online.
 
Each campus will be sending out specific communications to their faculty, students and staff regarding the impact to its respective campuses.

The UT System has a comprehensive resource guide that provides information and resources surrounding COVID-19:  tennessee.edu/coronavirus/.

In December 2019, the global health care community identified a new respiratory virus that originated in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, and has since been labeled 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization—previously it was referred to as 2019-nCoV). Spread of coronavirus is correlated with circumstances of close and sustained contact with others who are infected.

The University of Tennessee System has campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin and Memphis; the UT Space Institute in Tullahoma; the UT Institute of Agriculture with a presence in every Tennessee county; and the statewide Institute for Public Service. The UT system manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory through its UT-Battelle partnership; enrolls about 50,000 students statewide; produces about 10,000 new graduates every year; and represents more than 387,000 alumni around the world.

Flinn weighs in on ‘good, bad, and ugly’ of coronavirus crisis response

Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Flinn is weighing in with his views on the “good, bad, and ugly” of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Flinn, a Memphis physician and radio station owner, criticizes people who refuse to engage in social distancing and calls out members of Congress who allegedly sold stock holdings because they had advance warning of the effects of COVID-19.

“These actions, if proven true, are not only unfair but also illegal according to federal law and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Flinn said in a statement.

Flinn is seeking the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) this year. His main rivals are former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty and Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi.

Read the full statement here:

As a physician, businessman, and politician, and most importantly as an American just like you, we are all affected by the many sides of this pandemic and the multiple ramifications it is reeking on our society. There are three main sides to this pandemic. First, the ugly.

THE UGLY — There are certain groups of people who refuse to pay attention and heed the national, state and local public health rulings and CDC guidelines. They continue to congregate in close quarters seemingly not caring what happens to others and appear to only be concerned with their personal satisfaction. They believe that this is not a real problem in the United States. The worldwide experience and history of this viral pandemic are ignored. This attitude and these actions keep the viral spread more active and continues the threat of overwhelming healthcare and economic systems. It thwarts our efforts to “flatten the curve” and benefits no one. 

Congress passed a 2.2 trillion-dollar bailout bill that President Trump signed into law on March 27, 2020. This bill, called the CARES Act, is intended to re-energize our economy by helping individual citizens and employees through direct payments, enhanced unemployment benefits and through small businesses and corporations. The goal is to make sure people continue to have money coming into their homes and provide money to people to spend and keep a portion of our economy going. Already, a small percentage of the population is planning to “game the system” and receive more than their fair share of the 2.2 trillion dollars. For this small sector, greed is not dead.

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Healthcare startup’s simulation finds most critical coronavirus cases in Shelby, Knox

Source: Carrot Health COVID-19 Critical Infection Risk Dashboard

Shelby and Knox counties are likely to have the most critical — and fatal — cases of coronavirus in Tennessee, according to simulations by Carrot Health.

The estimates are based on scientific research analyzed against the healthcare startup’s database of demographic and behavior data on every adult in the country.

Under Carrot Health’s simulations, 529,915 Tennesseans will be infected, or 10% of the total adult population. About 27,580 cases, or 5.2%, will become critical, resulting in 5,517 mortalities.

Here’s what the projections find for the five most affected counties:

Adult population Simulated critical cases Simulated mortalities
Shelby 745,963 3,445 689
Knox 361,225 2,014 402
Davidson 504,611 1,704 341
Hamilton 291,970 1,571 314
Sullivan 136,685 1,321 264

See Carrot Health’s full Covid-19 Critical Infection Risk Dashboard here. Simulations can be adjusted based on critical infection and mortality rates.

Governor’s ban on nonessential businesses met with confusion

The doors of the state Capitol were closed to the public on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order to shut down nonessential businesses around the state to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus carried a 2,250-word attachment outlining which commercial activities would be exempted from coverage.

That has led to a chorus of questions about which commercial activities exactly are covered by the ban, and whether looser state guidelines would supercede stricter local rules. The second question is the easier one to answer. According to Lee’s executive order: “Nothing herein repeals, preempts, or otherwise limits the authority, if any, of a locality to issue further orders or measures on these same subjects.”

As for the which companies are covered by the blanket ban, Lee’s previous orders have specifically targeted restaurants (except for takeout and delivery) and gyms. The governor also issued a separate executive order Monday listing more businesses as having to close (in addition to the ones earlier ordered).

Businesses to be shuttered include those performing close-contact personal services, such as:

  • Barber shops.
  • Hair salons.
  • Waxing salons.
  • Threading salons.
  • Nail salons or spas.
  • Spas providing body treatments.
  • Body-art facilities or tattoo services.
  • Tanning salons.
  • Massage-therapy establishments or massage services.

Also closed are entertainment and recreational gathering venues, such as:

  • Night clubs.
  • Bowling alleys.
  • Arcades.
  • Concert venues.
  • Theaters, auditoriums, performing arts centers, or similar facilities.
  • Racetracks.
  • Indoor children’s play areas.
  • Adult entertainment venues.
  • Amusement parks.
  • Roller or ice skating rinks.

So what’s essential? A look at Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are the details about which businesses are exempted by Gov. Bill Lee’s order for non-essential operations to shut down to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. It’s a long list, ranging from marinas to dry cleaners. It also includes “any other business or organization that operates at all times with ten or fewer persons accessing the premises.”

Here’s the full breakdown:

For purposes of Executive Order No. 22, Essential Services include:

1. Personnel identified on pages 5-15 of the Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the United States Department of Homeland Security

2. Health Care and Public Health Operations. This includes, but is not limited to: hospitals; clinics; medical practices and services; mental health and substance abuse services; dental offices; pharmacies; public health entities, including those that compile, model, analyze, and communicate public health information; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, medical device and equipment, and biotechnology companies (including operations, research and development, manufacture, and supply chain components); organizations collecting blood, platelets, plasma, and other necessary materials; obstetricians and gynecologists; eye care centers, including those that sell glasses and contact lenses; home health care services providers; mental health and substance use providers; other health care facilities and suppliers; providers of any related and/or ancillary health care services; entities that transport and dispose of medical materials and remains; manufacturers, technicians, logistics, and warehouse operators, and distributors of medical equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), medical gases, pharmaceuticals, blood, platelets, and plasma products, vaccines, testing materials, laboratory supplies, cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting or sterilization supplies, and tissue and paper towel products; veterinary care and all health care services provided to animals. This also includes any medical or administrative personnel necessary to operate those functions in this paragraph. Health Care and Public Health Operations shall be construed broadly to avoid any impacts to the delivery of health care, broadly defined. Health Care and Public Health Operations does not include any procedures that would violate Executive Order No. 18, which remains in effect;

3. Human Services Operations. This includes, but is not limited to: government or government-funded human services to the public through state-operated, institutional, or community-based settings; long-term care facilities; day care centers, day care homes, or group day care homes; residential settings and shelters for adults, seniors, children, or people with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, substance use disorders, or mental illness; transitional facilities; home-based settings to provide services to individuals with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, seniors, adults, or children; field offices that provide and help to determine eligibility for basic needs including food, cash assistance, medical coverage, child care, vocational services, rehabilitation services; developmental centers; adoption agencies; businesses that provide food, shelter, social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged individuals, individuals with physical, intellectual, and/or developmental disabilities, or individuals otherwise in need. Human Services 7 Operations shall be construed broadly to avoid any impacts to the delivery of human services, broadly defined;

4. Essential Infrastructure Operations. This includes, but is not limited to: food production, distribution, and sale; construction-related services, including, but not limited to, construction required in response to this public health emergency, hospital construction, construction of long-term care facilities, public works construction, school construction, construction related to Essential Activity or Essential Services, and housing construction; building management and maintenance; landscape management; airport operations; operation and maintenance of utilities, including water, sewer, and gas; electrical services, including power generation, distribution, and production of raw materials; distribution centers; oil and biofuel refining; services related to roads, highways, railroads, ports, and public transportation; cybersecurity operations; flood control; solid waste and recycling collection, removal, and processing; and internet, video, and telecommunications systems and services, including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services, business infrastructure, communications, and web-based services. Essential Infrastructure Operations shall be construed broadly to avoid any impacts to essential infrastructure, broadly defined;

5. Essential Government Functions. This includes, but is not limited to: first responders, emergency management personnel, emergency dispatchers, and those supporting 911 and emergency services; legislators and legislative branch officials and employees, as determined by the Legislative Branch; judges, judicial branch employees, court personnel, jurors, and grand jurors, as determined by the Judicial Branch; law enforcement personnel; corrections and community supervision personnel; hazardous materials responders; election officials and operations; child protection and child welfare personnel; housing and shelter personnel; park personnel that provide admission, maintenance, and operation of park facilities that provide outdoor recreation; military; and other governmental employees working for or to support Essential Activity or Essential Services. Essential Government Functions also means all services provided by the State, the political subdivisions of the State, and boards, commissions, or agencies of government needed to ensure the continuing operation of the government agencies or to provide for or support the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Essential Government Functions also includes contractors performing or supporting such functions. Each branch of government and government entity shall determine its Essential Government Functions and ensure a plan is in place for the performance of these functions. This paragraph does not apply to the United States government; provided, however, that any employee, official, or contractor of the United States government shall not be restricted from performing their functions under law;

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Lee orders nonessential businesses to close statewide

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at the state Capitol on Sept. 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has ordered nonessential businesses to close their doors around the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic in Tennessee.

Lee had resisted calling for business closures around the state even while urban areas like Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and others had already taken those steps.

The move comes after 100 people at a Gallatin nursing home were hospitalized and two died amid a COVID-19 outbreak there. Sumner County’s confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 179.

The governor’s previous executive orders required restaurants to limit themselves to takeout and delivery, shut down gyms, and banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

Lee was joined by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) at the announcement. Here’s a statement from McNally:

From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Lee has been deliberate and careful in his approach. This threat changes from day-to-day, hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute. I appreciate Governor Lee’s ability to remain data-focused and flexible. Today’s order is a big step but a needed one at this time. Most population centers in our state are already operating under these conditions. Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open. The most important part of this order is that it sends the message the governor has been sending for many days now in no uncertain terms: stay home and stay apart.