Blake Farmer

Metro Public Health Dept.

A new analysis by Vanderbilt University’s Department of Health Policy finds a link between lower hospitalizations and mask mandates in Tennessee.

Nearly every part of the state has seen hospitalizations grow this month, but the most dramatic growth is in hospitals that pull at least three-quarters of their patients from places without mask requirements. They have nearly four times the patients as in early July.

For hospitals where most patients live under a mask mandate, Vanderbilt’s analysis finds the number of patients with COVID is basically the same as in early July.


Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients show no sign of slowing down in Tennessee, with a new high almost every day. But so far, the surge has not triggered the state’s plan to launch expanded sites for their care.

The alternative care sites in Nashville and Memphis have gone through “functional exercises” within the last few months to make sure they can launch quickly if needed, according to a Tennessee Department of Health spokesperson. But so far, they have not been ordered to activate.

Nashville’s overflow site was originally the city’s convention center, early in the pandemic when the state thought Middle Tennessee might need an extra thousand beds. The Music City Center was planning to hold 1,600 beds in total. Instead, the Army Corps of Engineers built out 67 beds to handle non-critical COVID patients in an unused floor of Nashville General Hospital.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

When a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved for use, it will be the state government who determines who gets it first. All states were required to submit their draft plans to federal authorities by this week. Tennessee will distribute its allotment based mostly on population, not severity of recent outbreaks.

At first, the priority will be inoculating health care workers and first responders, then the elderly and those who live in congregant settings — including prisons. Whether someone has had COVID won’t matter, according to the planners, since so little is known about the duration of immunity.

Tennessee does expect to hold on to roughly 10% of its vaccine supply in order to respond to hotspots or communities that may run out prematurely.


Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have shot up 30% in Tennessee since the start of October. And the number of patients in intensive care units is near an all-time high — approaching 1,200 — with health officials saying they are older and sicker than earlier in the pandemic.

The average age of COVID patients hospitalized in Tennessee is 70, with more of them hailing from the rural areas that are reeling from the virus. And they’re staying an average of nine days.

“These are pretty extensive stays,” says Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee’s health commissioner. “They require quite a bit of medication and treatment and recovery. Remember, even when you get out of the hospital, you are almost certainly not well. You still have a long recovery ahead of you.”


Williamson County Schools via Facebook

There will be no negative consequences for schools and teachers related to standardized testing this school year, so long as the Tennessee General Assembly agrees. Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn are calling for the tests to be administered as usual but that the results not be used to judge the education system.

“We can’t fill in the gaps with reading or math or learning loss without understanding where they are,” Lee says. But he adds testing “will have to look different this year.”

Until now, Lee and Schwinn have resisted requests from local districts, including Williamson County Schools, asking for leniency on testing accountability or instructional requirements.

COVID-19 has caused widespread damage to the economy — so wide that it can be easy to overlook how unevenly households are suffering. But new polling data out this month reveal households that either have had someone with COVID-19 or include someone who has a disability or special needs are much more likely to also be hurting financially.

Hopefully, summer won't end the way it began. Memorial Day celebrations helped set off a wave of coronavirus infections across much of the South and West. Gatherings around the Fourth of July seemed to keep those hot spots aflame.

Now Labor Day arrives as those regions are cooling off from COVID-19, and public health experts are calling on Americans to stay vigilant while celebrating the holiday weekend.

Rare purple martins are dazzling birders and bystanders near Nashville's tourist district each night for the next week or two. Biologists estimate 150,000 have chosen to temporarily roost on the plaza outside the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. And the symphony very nearly ran them off as a nuisance until they realized they were playing host to protected migratory songbirds.

Looking overhead as the martins descend into the trees at sunset is mesmerizing. via Twitter

The House Minority Leader in the Tennessee General Assembly was feeling ill at the start of last week’s special session. Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, attended a few socially-distanced meetings and was on the floor of the state House Monday night, according to a spokesperson.

That night, she got tested for COVID-19 and headed home to Memphis where she isolated as a precaution. The test was negative, but she did not return.

“It was subsequently determined that she had contracted the virus,” Democratic spokesperson Ken Jobe says.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

It took four months to get halfway to 100,000 coronavirus cases in Tennessee but less than four weeks to get the rest of the way. On Wednesday the state’s Department of Health reported 100,822 total cases, up nearly 1,800 from the day before.

The pace of new cases in Tennessee started surging at the end of June. The state hit 50,000 July 4 and crossed 100,000 July 29.

This month, transmission of the virus has become much more widespread with nearly every county over the acceptable threshold set by the Department of Health. That means Nashville and Memphis no longer account for such an outsized share of the new cases.

Damon Mitchell | WPLN (file)

The pandemic’s ripple effects have meant 1.5 million more kids are going hungry, according to a new study in the medical journal Pediatrics. The polling data puts numbers to a food insecurity problem that has been occurring out of sight.

The study is based on national polling of parents with kids under 18. And roughly 2% said that since March, they have become unable to afford all the food they need.

Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University Medical Center is the lead author and says the statistically significant uptick represents 1.5 million children.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

Demand for COVID-19 testing is expected to surge again this week, following the Independence Day holiday and its gatherings of families and friends. And while Tennesseans have been encouraged to get tested, even without symptoms, finding the right testing site has remained a challenge because private providers often won’t test without symptoms.

For many, their first call is to their doctor, but very few primary care practices are offering coronavirus testing in the first place. Many have found it too difficult to maintain infection control and carry on with typical business.

There are some new walk-in clinics that specialize in COVID-19 testing, such as Complete Health Partners, which is offering curbside testing. CVS has even started offering a drive-up option in Tennessee with its Minute Clinics.

TDOH via Twitter

More people in Tennessee are confirmed to have the coronavirus right now than at any point during the pandemic, according to tracking by WPLN News.

The state has also seen an upward trend in new cases and hospitalizations in recent days. About two dozen additional patients enter a hospital each day, statewide.

While there have been more than 26,000 coronavirus cases in Tennessee as of Sunday, most people fully recovered weeks ago. So it’s becoming more important to watch the number of cases considered actively contagious. That number of “active” cases is as high as it’s ever been: 8,741, and it’s been rising for days.

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.