For the first time, Gov. Bill Lee acknowledged that COVID-19 is out of control in Tennessee. However, he said vaccines will arrive soon. Healthcare workers and first-responders, followed by the most vulnerable, like nursing home residents, will get the first doses.
NASHVILLE, TN – Gov. Bill Lee held a phone conference Wednesday, November 25, with Tennessee’s 129 community newspapers. All of the questions related to COVID-19.
“It can be discouraging to see all around us what’s going on in the midst of Thanksgiving,” Lee said. The Governor said he and his wife, Maria, would be praying for all Tennesseans.
“Certainly, the numbers are up, our healthcare capacity is down. We are at a very challenging spot all across the state,” he said.
The Tennessee Department of Health reported 92 deaths Wednesday, the highest number since the pandemic began. The next highest daily death toll, 89, was reported November 11.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Tennessee’s death rate is 15% above normal. Tennessee is one of 20 states where COVID-19 deaths are peaking. Infections are high and increasing. The statewide positivity rate Wednesday, November 25, was 15%.
On November 25, Davidson County’s positivity rate was 6.3% but the 7-day average was 10.5%. Experts say anything over 6% means the virus is spreading and a 10% rate is when public health officials put the infection metric into the “red” category. Those numbers have prompted authorities all over the country to impose new COVID-19 restrictions, including Nashville.
However, businesses in Tennessee are mostly open, no stay at home orders have been issued recently, and there is no statewide mask mandate.
Tennessee’s positivity rate has been over 10% since late October. If you divide the number of positive cases by the number of tests given on a particular day, you get the infection rate. The death rate is figured by dividing the number of deaths by the number of positive cases.
It’s a grim picture because 4,466 Tennesseans have died from the virus and more than 2,000 are currently hospitalized. Compared to other states, Tennessee’s response to the pandemic has not been stellar. It’s better than some but worse than others.
Even so, Lee was upbeat Wednesday, and announced that Pfizer vaccines will be ready about December 10 and Moderna’s vaccine will be available a week later.
Lee said Tennessee was one of four states Pfizer picked to deliver its experimental coronavirus vaccine that is 90% effective. The three other states are Rhode Island, Texas, and New Mexico. Pfizer announced the vaccine delivery pilot program will be the model for other states and governments to implement their COVID-19 vaccine programs.
Lee has been frequently asked why he hasn’t issued a statewide mandate to wear masks. He said his decision to let local authorities make that decision for their jurisdictions is working.
“I’m very encouraged, frankly, about the way it’s work. We have about 70% of Tennesseans under a mask requirement…and about 80% of Tennesseans through a Carnegie Mellon study say they now wear a mask most or all the time when they leave home,” Lee said.