Tennessee saw the single highest COVID-19 case growth ever Wednesday with 2,472 new cases reported, while Bradley County almost doubled its single-day high.
Gov. Bill Lee recognized Wednesday’s leap in cases during a press conference in Nashville with Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn and Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey. Lee attributed the large number to the high volume of tests, with more than 29,000 test results confirmed Wednesday.
While the positivity rate has remained steady at 8.3%, Piercey said, hospitalizations across the state are climbing.
Piercey said Unified Command is “keeping a close eye” on hospitalizations, noting an uptick in patients in the biggest markets, as well as Chattanooga and Knoxville. She also acknowledged that while a large number of new cases reported Wednesday is “alarming” and “eye-opening,” the positivity rate remains on-trend. Piercey said around 750 Tennesseans were currently being hospitalized.
“This is not slowing down. There has been a continued increase, but I’m not more concerned today than I was yesterday,” she said.
Piercey also addressed the slow turnaround time in medical labs across the state. She said many labs are reporting COVID-19 test-result delays of seven to 12 days.
“That is unacceptable,” she said, adding that contact tracing cannot begin until an individual receives their test results.
She said the current delays are a result of increased demand in testing that “outpaces” the supply chain. Delays have also been the result of labs unaccustomed processing high volumes of test kits.
Piercey said the Tennessee Department of Health monitors turnaround times at 26 processing facilities across the state and sends tests to labs with a higher capacity and capability for high-volume testing. She also said the Department of Health is experiencing the “taxing” process of locating its own supplies for testing in the overwhelmed supply chain.
The health commissioner also said results are being delayed because certain labs are prioritizing processing test kits for high-risk patients over asymptomatic individuals. While she said that was “understandable,” she did not want it to discourage anyone from seeking a test.
“It is critical that we continue to test anyone who needs or wants to be tested,” she said.
Bradley County added a record-breaking 101 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday. The county has confirmed 221 new cases of COVID-19 this week and an additional death has been confirmed as well, bringing Bradley County’s death toll to four.
Starting Tuesday, County Mayor D. Gary Davis ordered face masks to be worn in all county offices in response to rising cases in the community, but said he would stop short of issuing a public mandate for masks because it’s “unenforceable,” in his opinion.
In Hamilton County, lack of a face mask indoors is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $50 fine or up to 30 days in jail.
Piercey thanked local leaders who have encouraged or mandated mask-wearing, saying it was part of a series of steps Tennesseans can take to protect local businesses from future closures due to the pandemic.
“Wearing a mask will help us to reduce transmission, keep businesses open and help us get back to normal.”
The rise in cases and hospitalizations comes a month before schools are due to reopen for the 2020-21 school year.
State education leader Schwinn, who traveled with Piercey to the White House Tuesday for a national conversation on school reopenings, said the state’s goal is to provide a “framework” for school districts to respond on an individual basis, based on their community’s needs.
Schwinn said the state is prioritizing social and emotional health along with the physical health of families. She said the state has encouraged school districts to approach reopening with a “traditional, in-person” learning model as the first and best option while also planning for hybrid and remote learning, as well.
The state is preparing to bolster at-home learning for parents who opt to keep their children home from school with continued partnerships with PBS for daytime educational programs, as well as ReadyRosie, an online reading comprehension platform.
The Tennessee Department of Education will also be releasing enough free tools and instructional videos to cover “an entire year of instruction.” Schwinn said Lee has pledged $50 million in technology grants for schools that will pay for “one-third of the cost of a computer for every student in grades 3-12 in the state of Tennessee."
Schwinn said keeping schools open not only helps children’s social-emotional health, but is a safeguard for working parents without alternative childcare.
Lee said Executive Order 54, which grants county mayors the power to mandate masks, as well as the approach from the TDOE, reflects the state’s desire to stray away from a “one size fits all" approach. But, he said to combat the virus outbreak, “we need buy-in.”
“Wear a mask to protect you, your family, and Tennessee’s economy,” Lee said.
In Tennessee, 55,986 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. A total of 32,736 have recovered, 685 have died and 3,023 have been hospitalized. Nearly 1 million individuals have been tested for COVID-19 in Tennessee, as well.
Confirmed case totals for Bradley County neighbors include:
• Grundy: 65 cases, 49 recoveries and 2 death;
• Hamilton: 3,007 cases, 1,950 recoveries and 36 deaths;
• Marion: 87 cases, 53 recoveries and 4 deaths;
• McMinn: 255 cases, 171 recoveries and 18 deaths;
• Meigs: 34 cases, 27 recoveries and 0 deaths;
• Monroe: 141 cases, 104 recoveries and 6 deaths;
• Polk: 48 cases, 34 recoveries and 0 deaths;
• Rhea: 293 cases, 248 recoveries and 0 deaths; and
• Sequatchie: 42 cases, 27 recoveries and 0 deaths.
Counties with Tennessee's highest numbers of cases include:
• Bedford: 589 cases, 434 recoveries and 8 deaths;
• Bledsoe: 624 cases, 615 recoveries and 1 death;
• Davidson: 12,234 cases, 7,131 recoveries and 132 deaths;
• Knox: 1,392 cases, 685 recoveries and 9 deaths;
• Lake: 696 cases, 691 recoveries and 0 deaths;
• Montgomery: 620 cases, 222 recoveries and 7 deaths;
• Putnam: 926 cases, 667 recoveries and 7 deaths;
• Robertson: 875 cases, 531 recoveries and 11 deaths;
• Rutherford: 3,234 cases, 1,426 recoveries and 37 deaths;
• Shelby: 12,549 cases, 7,985 recoveries and 208 deaths;
• Sumner: 1,727 cases, 687 recoveries and 55 deaths;
• Trousdale: 1,503 cases, 1,427 recoveries and 5 deaths;
• Williamson: 1,515 cases, 613 recoveries and 15 deaths; and
• Wilson: 1,060 cases, 478 recoveries and 17 deaths.