Blake Farmer

Tony Gonzalez | WPLN News

The state of Tennessee is now allowing restaurants and retail businesses to increase capacity, so long as social-distancing recommendations can still be met.

Starting this weekend, establishments will no longer have capacity restrictions. And entertainment venues can reopen, though they have some very specific guidance that was just released Wednesday afternoon (listed here, like suspending “pop-up” performances that might gather an uncontrollable crowd).

At performance venues, musicians are supposed to be kept 15 feet away from audiences as a sort of spit zone, since singing expels more germs than speaking does.

SRMC via Facebook

Tennessee nurse practitioners hope looser regulations during the pandemic have shown they don’t need a medical doctor checking their work — often for a fee. They’ve battled mandatory chart reviews in the legislature for years.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants were temporarily freed from what they see as merely paperwork oversight in mid-March with Executive Order 15 from Gov. Bill Lee. The sweeping order also relieved advanced practice nurses of site visits from a doctor every 30 days.

“It just calls into question whether this is even needed at all,” says Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s April Kapu, who will soon lead the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

TN Dept. of Health via Twitter

Pandemic modeling from Vanderbilt University finds Tennessee was able to drive down the COVID-19 transmission rate well ahead of the initial projections made on April 10. As a result, the number of people simultaneously hospitalized has plateaued below 300 statewide.

A month ago, even if the state made “continued progress” to slow the spread of the virus, concurrent hospitalizations would have at least hit 1,200 by mid-May. But Vanderbilt modelers say the state started slowing the spread of COVID-19 a month earlier than expected, meaning that on average not every person with a positive case was getting at least one other person sick.

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The new coronavirus doesn't discriminate. But physicians in public health and on the front lines say that in the response to the pandemic, they can already see the emergence of familiar patterns of racial and economic bias.

In one analysis, it appears doctors may be less likely to refer African Americans for testing when they show up for care with signs of infection.

Country music icon Kenny Rogers, whose hits included "Lucille," "Lady" and "The Gambler," died late Friday at his home in Sandy Springs, Ga., his family said in a statement. He was 81.

The Houston-born country star had 20 No.-1 hits and three Grammys and performed for some 60 years before retiring from touring in 2017 at age 79, according to the Associated Press.

Rogers didn't write most of his hits and often said he didn't consider himself much of a songwriter. But he told NPR in 2012 that he had a knack for picking songs that could draw in the listener.

Masks, gloves and other equipment are crucial as health care workers face the COVID-19 outbreak. There is a strategic national stockpile that the U.S. government controls — but no one actually knows, beyond that stockpile, what's already out there in the private sector.

Some hospitals have extras, and some not enough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on a system that would track the inventory across the U.S.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

Especially this time of year, tornado warnings are not out of the ordinary in Putnam County. But when Terri McWilliams’ phone started buzzing on her nightstand, she decided not to ignore it.

“By the time that warning went off, we had minutes,” she says.

The wind was howling. And then it began to roar.

“We came running down the basement, and my son, who is 17, was the last one, and he had to dive down the stairs because the walls were falling in and the roof was lifting,” McWilliams says. “He was under rubble but was able to climb into the basement.”


Tornadoes ripped through Nashville, Tenn., and surrounding areas overnight. At least seven residents are confirmed dead, many more injured, and authorities are still trying to map out the full scope of the damage. Blake Farmer from our member station WPLN in Nashville joins us now. Blake, I understand you're out and about. Where exactly are you right now, and what are you seeing?

Chas Sisk | WPLN

Medicaid expansion remains a long shot in Tennessee. But a key lawmaker is pledging to give it a fair hearing this year.

Details of the bill haven’t been finalized, but the legislation, sponsored by a Republican in both the House and Senate, has already been assigned to a subcommittee on TennCare. The panel has just one Democrat, but chairman David Hawk, R-Greeneville, says he will give plenty of time and even allow outside witnesses to testify.

“Issues like that are too important to close debate,” he tells WPLN News. “I want to have as many people who want to talk about the issue to be able to discuss that issue.”

Blake Farmer | WPLN

Tennessee’s governor wants to expand health coverage for pregnant women and new mothers on TennCare. And that includes dental benefits because a mom’s mouth has a surprising connection to the health of a baby.

In the last decade, there have been studies that have found some of the harmful bacteria in a pregnant woman’s mouth can end up in the stomach of their newborn. And it’s even been linked to important health indicators and risk factors for infant mortality such as pre-term births and low birth weights.

“It can be a contributing factor, and we do know that,” says Dr. Cherae Farmer-Dixon, dean of the Meharry School of Dentistry. “It’s almost like saying if you’ve got low-hanging fruit, this is one that we can help.”


Anne Rayner | VUMC

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is preparing to have fewer organs to transplant, starting next week. Academic medical centers banded together to slow down a new distribution plan for donated livers, but they’ve failed to convince a federal judge to intervene ahead of what could be a lengthy court battle.

The new distribution map, created by the United Network for Organ Sharing, is supposed to get livers to the most critical patients (within 500 nautical miles) rather than the closest by. It’s a years-long effort to even the playing field because patients in the Southeast and Midwest have an easier time getting a match at the moment, which has resulted in Vanderbilt having one of the busiest transplant centers in the nation.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

Tennessee health officials haven’t been questioning many of the state’s highest opioid prescribers. Of the most prolific, half have never triggered an inquiry, and most have never been disciplined.

The state comptroller was asked by lawmakers to look into how the state Department of Health polices opioid prescribing. They found 62 prescribers that were far outside the standard practice of medicine, and only half were on the state’s radar.

Research analyst Kristina Podesta says their patterns might be explainable.

“The data that we’re looking at in black and white, unfortunately, isn’t that simple when you’re dealing with patients,” she says. “So I think there’s a lot more that goes into it than just the data.”

"I'm not anti-hospice at all," says Joy Johnston, a writer from Atlanta. "But I think people aren't prepared for all the effort that it takes to give someone a good death at home."