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Roundup: More Cases at State Prison; Hospitals Estimate Financial Losses

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More cases at Bledsoe prison

The COVID-19 outbreak that has infected nearly 600 people at a state prison southwest of Knoxville likely originated in the staff and spread into the inmate population, the state corrections system medical director said.

"The uncomfortable answer for those asking really [comes] back to the community and the folks that work at the prison," Dr. Kenneth Williams told a Chattanooga TV station this week.

The outbreak at Bledsoe Correctional Complex near Pikeville became apparent in mid-April, after the Department of Correction directed an intensive testing plan at four state prisons. The first case at Bledsoe was confirmed April 12.

Results released this week show all 2,322 inmates at Bledsoe have been tested for the novel coronavirus virus. 1,703 prisoners tested negative. Tests results were pending for about three dozen others.

80 to 90 percent of the inmates statewide who tested positive are asymptomatic, Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter said.

TN unemployment filings may have peaked

Tennesseans are still filing for temporary jobless benefits, but at a slower rate in recent weeks.

The latest report from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development shows close to 44,000 people filed for unemployment the week of April 19 - 25. It was the second consecutive week of slower growth. The record high so far for jobless claims in a single week is 116,141, recorded March 29 – April 4.

In the sixteen-county region that includes the Knoxville metro area, about 9,300 people filed for unemployment benefits. The regional high was 25,040 the week of March 29 – April 4.

The initial onslaught of claims overwhelmed the state’s processing system, forcing state labor department officials to purchase two new computer servers and hire 300 people to process claims in a timely manner.

As businesses begin to slowly re-open this month, weekly requests for benefits may drop. The first report that could offer a snapshot of how the re-openings are affecting unemployment will be released May 14.

Cancellation of non-essential procedures cost Tennessee hospitals $1B a month

People who study hospital revenues say elective and non-emergency medical procedures make up a big chunk of hospital revenue each year. Now we have a number to make that observation concrete: one billion dollars a month.

That’s now much money the state’s hospitals are believed to have lost when the governor’s safer-at-home order temporarily suspended non-essential procedures and services, according to an analysis from the Tennessee Hospital Association.

The suspension “create[d] a paradox of hospitals experiencing severe financial strain when their services are most needed,” THA president Wendy Long said in a statement.

Long said she believed federal and state aid would be needed to help keep hospitals running smoothly.

“[T]he impact is so massive that more assistance will be needed in order to ensure continuity of operations at hospitals and provide a necessary level of care,” Long said.

As serious COVID-19 cases remain at manageable levels, hospitals across the state have been given the go-ahead to resume elective procedures and routine services.