NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Local health officials said this morning that the region is still weeks behind the peak COVID-19 surge, but Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said plans to reboot the state’s economy will progress.
In his daily press briefing on Thursday, Lee said the key to opening the economy in regions that haven’t reached the peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations will be keeping a vigilant eye on daily data from hospitals.
“We will continue to monitor the capacity, the prevalence of personal protective equipment, the amount of healthcare workers,” Lee said.
“We no longer have to rely only on models that predict the future, we now have weeks of data that tell us exactly what’s happening on the ground with hospital capacity.”
Gov. Lee began the briefing minutes after a tele-conference with President Donald Trump and governors from around the country.
The president outlined initial plans for reopening the national economy in that conference. The plans outline phased reopening plans for places with declining infections and strong testing.
In Northeast Tennessee, the spread appears to have slowed this week, according to data from the state health department. The department reported 20 new cases since Monday, compared to 38 cases from Monday through Thursday last week.
To date, there have been 1,862 tests performed in the region with promises from state officials for expanded testing capacity through lifted testing restrictions and weekend drive-thru clinics.
Lee said it’s too soon to tell what the “phased reboot” of the economy will look like or which areas of the state will open first. Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey warned in the same conference that the approach must be timely to avoid regression.
She explained that officials are looking to drop the “reproductive rate” of the virus, meaning the average number of people that a COVID-19 person infects.
She said that the rate has hovered between 2% and 3% in the state, but that the goal is to get the number below 1%.
“The worst thing that can happen is that we open things up too soon and we relax the social distancing too quickly, that number jumps back up and we’ll find ourselves in a similar situation that we were in several weeks ago,” she said.
Lee announced Monday his plans to begin the reboot of the economy, eyeing May 1 as the starting line.
He said that the state is collecting enough data to be able to monitor the virus’ spread as reboot progresses.
“Now we can track exactly what’s happening in our healthcare systems to make sure we maintain that capacity and when we begin to see that capacity be depleted, then we can make adjustments to that opening,” he said.