NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — New projections for Tennessee predict a significant flattening of the curve of COVID-19 cases expected in the coming weeks.
Among the new factors included in the latest version: the potential impact of Gov. Bill Lee’s stay-at-home order.
Rather than facing a critical shortage of hospital beds and ventilators, the new model suggests that the Volunteer State will easily be able to meet the expected demand at the peak of the surge in mid-April.
“This is the most impactful moment of our last couple of weeks in this battle because we see, if we act decisively to mitigate the virus, we are going to make a huge impact on the future of our state,” said Dr. Aaron Milstone, the Franklin pulmonologist who led the push for a statewide mandate.
The data, which the Lee administration has relied upon for weeks, comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.
Last week, Lee announced that convention centers and other facilities across Tennessee would be converted into makeshift hospitals based on projections that the state would face a shortage of about 7,000 hospital beds at the peak of the surge.
But the latest IHME model predicts a demand for only 1,232 hospital beds on April 15 as a result of the stay-at-home order, well below the 7,812 beds currently available.
The state will need 245 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds at peak, with 629 currently available, the projections show.
The IHME model also predicts a need for 208 ventilators, well below the Tennessee Department of Health’s count of 800-900 available devices.
Previous projections suggested that, without the stay-at-home order, Tennessee would see 159 COVID-19 deaths per day at peak.
That number has been revised down to 25 deaths per day.
While the IHME model has previously predicted 3,259 COVID-19 deaths statewide, the new projections now suggest that the number of deaths will level off at 587 by May 10.
Dr. David Aronoff, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt, cautioned that it would be a mistake in getting too optimistic of the new estimates.
"It's nice to see a projection that makes us happier and really appears that, if we keep doing what we are doing, we are not going to overwhelm our healthcare infrastructure," Aronoff said.
"But I think we are still in the rising days of this pandemic and we need to keep our guard up and we need to be prepared."
The revised projections also highlight the difficulty of predicting the behavior of the virus, even as New York City and other jurisdictions are being inundated.
South Carolina, which has not instituted a stay-at-home order, also saw a significant reduction in its expected death toll.
Milstone, the Franklin doctor, cautioned that the new projections are a best-case scenario and assume 100 percent compliance with the stay-at-home mandate.
“If we follow the mandate and the governor maintains the mandate and makes it an effective mandate, then we can take our bed shortage to zero -- and we are not going to need the Music City Center, we are not going to need dormitories in Knoxville, we are not going to need a convention center in Memphis,” the Franklin doctor added.
“We can save a whole lot more Tennesseans with the mandate than without.
It is not clear how the new projections will affect the state of Tennessee’s contingency planning.