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First Case of Coronavirus Confirmed In Tennessee

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Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, WPLN News
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The first case of coronavirus has made its way to Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday.

“As of last night we have our first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Tennessee,” Lee said.

The patient is a 44-year-old man who lives in Williamson County who traveled out of state recently, but not internationally. He flew nonstop between Boston and Nashville International Airport but showed no symptoms while he was traveling. He has been back in Tennessee for four to five days.

Health officials say they are coordinating with their counterparts in Massachusetts.

“We have been anticipating identification of COVID-19 cases in Tennessee,” Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said. “We are now working closely with the CDC and local health care partners to identify this patient’s contacts and contain the spread of this disease in our community.”

Piercey said she has talked to the patient and that he is quarantined along with his family at his home in Williamson County.

“At this time, the overall risk to the general public remains low,” Piercey clarified.

It’s unclear if the man has children in Williamson County Schools. But the district has preemptively cancelled school on Friday and Monday for a “deep cleaning” out of “additional precaution.”

The test results of the man were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further confirmation.

Mary-Margaret Pierce, the medical epidemiologist of the state, said the patient had mild symptoms but they had progressed.

The state has tested roughly 10 patients for COVID-19 since Feb. 20. Until now, all those individuals have tested negative, Piercey said.

The state has 85 test kits, but Piercey says that is “plenty for now.” The state is still trying to assess how many masks and other resources it has.

Tennessee is now part of a growing list of states that have confirmed patients with the disease. Bordering states North Carolina and Georgia have also had cases.

The news comes a day after Lee announced the creation of a coronavirus task force to develop “strong precautionary measures, resource allocation and emergency response plans.”

Lee told reporters Thursday that the public needs to avoid worrying excessively about the disease.

“I think that’s how we keep from overreacting,” Lee said. “We don’t want to understate the seriousness of the situation, but we also want to remind folks that keeping it in perspective is important — the vast number of cases are mild.”

Potential Economic Impact In The State

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said he has concerns about both the health and economic implications of the coronavirus in the state.

He said he expects “very difficult decisions” to be made in the next coming days.

“I think we’ve got to take care of the health of our community first,” Yarbro said. “But we also have to do what we can to really support small businesses that may be particularly affected here and to try to stave off any greater economic damage.”

This is a developing story.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.