Tennessee’s approach to a surge in COVID-19 might not include another “massive shutdown,” and hospitals here now have enough of the drug remdesivir to treat about 600 patients.
This information came to light in a meeting this week of the Tennessee General Assembly. The Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee featured presentations by Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, and from Dr. Wendy Long, president and CEO of the Tennessee Hospital Association (THA).
Friday marks three months since the coronavirus appeared in the state for the first time on March 5th. Daily life halted here later that month as government lockdowns shut down businesses and stopped non-essential travel. Since then, much of the state has reopened for business. But that is less so in the state’s metropolitan regions, hot spots for the virus with independent health departments to guide final decisions on moving forward.
During the Senate hearing, Piercey, the state’s top health official, said Tennessee should not expect further lockdowns.
“I don’t know that anyone has the appetite for massive shutdowns,” she said.
Should the virus surge here again, Piercey said the state may take a “laser focus or a surgical approach.” The response may be targeted and could look different in different parts of the state or with different population groups.
“We’re not exactly sure what that will look like, but I don’t think we’ll have the massive, widespread efforts we’ve had in the past,” she said.
Part of this thinking, she said, comes from the idea that “economic prosperity is an important part of health,” a phrase Piercey repeated during the hearing. She also repeated the continued importance of “doing your part and staying apart,” covering your face in public, washing your hands, and staying away from sick people.
For now, though, Piercey reported a slower rate of increase in the virus here, that the “slope is not quite so steep and we’re starting to see some flattening.” Metros remain hot spots, she said, but that was expected.
Statewide, nearly 450,000 tests have been given. Nearly 20,000 were given each day over two days last week. Piercey said this level per capita ranks Tennessee 12th overall for testing in the U.S. She credited most of this to partnerships with private laboratories that can now turn around tests on an average of 1.6 days.
While health officials aren’t sure how the virus will react to the summer heat and humidity, Piercey said if it sticks around to this fall and winter it could cause strain at hospitals. This concern is based only on being aware of the normal uptick in hospital use during a typical flu season.
Tennessee Hospital Association
Dr. Wendy Long
THA president Long told Senators earlier this week that the federal government has doled out 4,880 vials of the drug remdesivir to Tennessee.
Long said the drug has shown to alleviate virus symptoms in patients from 15 days to 11 days. So far, 122 Tennessee patients have been treated with the drug, though Long did not have any reports on result as of this week.
The vials of the drugs in the state are held at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). Hospitals here must request the drug from an advisory board overseeing the drug. That board then doles the drug to individual hospitals.