COVID-19

Rutherford County has been listed as the No. 3 COVID-19 hot spot in Tennessee by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The report was publicized the week before Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron issued a countywide mask mandate on July 20.

Liz Essley Whyte with the Center for Public Integrity obtained a copy of an unpublished report on hot spots from the task force and reported on the data on July 16. The center’s website is publicintegrity.org. The report, dated July 14, was created by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The center is a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C.

The White House report lists 18 states, including Tennessee, as a red zone for cases, the center said. That means the state had over 100 new cases per 100,000 people in early July. Tennessee was not listed as any of the 11 states in the red zone for positive tests.

Tennessee had 155 new cases per 100,000 people, vs. a national average of 119 per 100,000, the report said. These counties had the highest number of new cases over three weeks, respectively: Shelby, Davidson and Rutherford. They accounted for 50 percent of new cases in the state.

The yellow zone counties for the three weeks preceding the report were: Shelby; Hamilton; Williamson; Knox; Wilson; Putnam; Maury; Fayette; Madison; Lawrence; Hardeman; and Tipton. The yellow zone metro areas were: Memphis; Knoxville; Chattanooga; Morristown; Cookeville; Clarksville; Jackson; Kingsport-Bristol; Lawrenceburg; Newport; Tullahoma-Manchester; and Greeneville. Yellow means during the week before the report they had both new cases between 10-100 per 100,000 and a diagnostic test positivity result between 5-10 percent, or one of those two conditions and one condition qualifying as being in the red zone.

Within Tennessee, the report said, the red zone counties for the three weeks preceding the report were: Davidson; Rutherford; Sumner; Bradley; Sevier; Hamblen; Macon; Robertson; Bedford; Dyer; Lauderdale; and Smith. The red zone metro areas were: Nashville-Murfreesboro-Franklin; Cleveland; Sevierville; Shelbyville; Dyersburg; and Brownsville. Red means during the week before the report both new cases above 100 per 100,000 population and a diagnostic test positivity result above 10 percent.

State values were calculated by aggregating county-level data from USAFacts, the report said. As a result, the values may not match those reported by the state. Testing data comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The White House report’s recommendations include: continued weekly testing at long-term care facility workers and masks and social distancing for visitors; mandated use of masks in public for current and evolving hot spots; closing bars and gyms in hot spot counties; switching to outdoor dining and limited indoor dining of less than 25 percent and gathering limits of 10; encouraging people who attended large events to get tested; providing more messages that people with underlying health conditions are at risk; doing community-led and pooled household testing in red zone metro areas; testing households in one tube with rapid turnaround testing and isolate entire households and do follow-up individual tests; and expanding testing capacity in public health labs.

Main Street Media of Tennessee, this newspaper’s publisher, emailed public information officers for Gov. Bill Lee, Unified Command and the Tennessee Health Department. These are the questions:

  • Governor question: Will the administration be implementing any of the Task Force recommendations (listed at the end of this email) or encouraging mayors/metro health departments to do so? If so, what specifics? Will there be another safer at home order on the state level?
  • Governor and Health question: Does the governor or Dr. (Lisa) Piercey have a statement on what this report means for Tennessee and the counties in the red and yellow zones?
  • Governor and Unified Command question: Will this affect the status of Tennessee Pledge, especially for industries called out in the report?
  • Governor question: Did Gov. Lee receive a copy of this report last week?

Gillum Ferguson, a spokesman for Lee, replied for the departments and said by email, "The Unified Command Group is in close contact with White House officials to provide regular updates on COVID-19's presence in Tennessee and to share best practices and challenges the state is facing in responding to the pandemic. Many of the suggestions listed are already in place in certain counties in Tennessee, and we are working with local governments on the best way to address the pandemic in their unique communities."

Main Street Media asked these follow-up questions, but as of press time had not received a response:

  • What is the average wait time for tests to be processed? Is it faster for the health department or a private lab to process tests? Is there any additional test or lab capacity coming online in Middle Tennessee? If so, what?
  • Where would someone go for an antibody test?

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