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Roundup: State of Emergency Extended; Vanderbilt Looks at the Numbers

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Vanderbilt University Medical Center
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Vanderbilt model indicates mixed picture for Tennessee

Researchers at Vanderbilt University say Tennesseans effectively "flattened the curve" before it could take off, but that the effects of re-opening businesses is yet to be seen in COVID-19 case data.

"Safer at home" orders succeeded in limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus, the researchers said. Accordingly, they revised downward the expected number of cases requiring hospitalization, and cases that result in death. But the team also pointed out that the effects of the state's experiment with restoring some economic and social activity are yet to be known.

"We believe it is too early to assess the impact of businesses reopening across the state or of more Tennesseans resuming activities outside their homes," the team wrote in a research paper released Wednesday morning.

The report noted recent spikes in new COVID-19 cases. Many of the new cases have been in prisons, where intensive testing was slow to be implemented. Some cases show up from mass testing events held across Tennessee.

"Is this increase in cases because there is more widespread testing, because more people are getting infected, or both?" the report said. "This question remains difficult to answer with certainty."

As Knoxville opts out of data-sharing program, Knox County opts in

The city of Knoxville announced it would no longer participate in a program that shared information about people who tested positive for COVID-19. Hours later, Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler said his department would join the program.

The program’s intent is to share COVID-19 patients’ names and addresses with law enforcement so officers could take protective steps when interacting with them. The list is provided by the Tennessee Department of Health, and an agreement required the information not be kept on file. However, patients were not told their information was being shared. The database and its use have come under bipartisan criticism.

Knoxville’s police department was one of nearly seventy law enforcement agencies to initially sign on to access the database. Mayor Indya Kincannon and Police Chief Eve Thomas said the decision to take the city out of the program reflects concerns about privacy and the database’s unintended consequences.

“Allowing law enforcement access to the state database was problematic,” Kincannon said in a statement. “Few people have been tested, and many others are asymptomatic carriers, so this could present a false sense of security. More importantly, we don’t want to create any public reluctance to be tested out of fear that confidential information might inadvertently be shared.”

Meanwhile, Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler decided to join the program. The sheriff’s office was not initially informed of the database, spokeswoman Kimberly Glenn told the News Sentinel. For now the database will be compared to the names of inmates being taken to the county jail in Maloneyville, Glenn said.

Lee order extends state of emergency

Tennessee will continue under a state of emergency until June 30, according to an executive order signed by Gov. Bill Lee Tuesday.

The order suspends some regulations that would require personal contact, such as renewing driver’s licenses and handgun carry permits, as well as certain inspections of health care facilities and laboratories. The order also allows medical providers to continue offering telemedicine services, extends certain prescriptions to 90-day supplies, and keeps open the possibility that more hospital space may be needed for severe COVID-19 cases.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Lee noted the updated order “[R]eally is a continuation of previous efforts to help Tennesseans in the midst of a life that includes and should include social distancing.”

Lee issued the initial state of emergency March 12.

Asian American group donates PPE to local responders

An East Tennessee-based Asian American group has donated personal protective equipment to local first responders.

East Tennessee Chinese/Chinese American Care (ETCCAC) has delivered nearly 30,000 PPE items to hospitals, law enforcement agencies, senior living facilities, UPS outlets, homeless shelters and COVID-19 testing sites in Knoxville, Oak Ridge and Maryville. The material was collected by nearly 200 volunteers, ETCCAC said.

The group has also raised nearly $12,000 for the Knox County COVID-19 Response Fund.

ETCCAC was founded by Asian Americans at the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and in the general community.