NewsNewsChannel 5 Investigates


New report says Tennessee's COVID-19 progress is 'fragile'

COVID-19 Spread by TN region.png
Posted at 12:00 PM, Apr 16, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Efforts to control the COVID-19 spread in Tennessee now stand at a critical point, with some parts of the state still struggling to get the virus under control, a new report concludes.

"Tennessee's recent progress, while real and positive, is fragile," says the report from researchers at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Statewide, the transmission rate for the coronavirus has declined to approximately 1.0 -- meaning each infected person person, on average, infects one other person, according to the report.

That's down from 1.4 a week ago.

A transmission number below 1.0 is necessary to slow an epidemic, the researchers say.

Some regions of the state, such as the greater Nashville area, have cut the transmission rate to below that threshold.

RELATED: Tennessee prepares for future with more COVID-19 hospitalizations

But the South Central region, essentially southern Middle Tennessee, has a transmission rate above 2.0, meaning each infected person is passing the virus on to more than two others.

The Upper Cumberland region, Cookeville and surrounding areas, has a transmission rate of about 1.5.

Those transmission rates suggest that the number of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in those areas may continue to climb.

"Our analysis of the recent data indicates that without further changes to the transmission number, Tennessee may be settling into a 'simmer,'" the report continues.

"Should the transmission number not increase or decrease, the number of statewide hospitalizations would remain stable moving forward. Should the transmission number increase to above 1.0, hospitalizations would increase. And if the transmission number declines, hospitalizations would fall further."

The updated report comes as Gov. Bill Lee is working on what he has called a "phased reboot" of the Tennessee economy beginning in May.

On Wednesday, Lee told lawmakers that a new surge could happen and that his team is working to establish hospital-like facilities that could be used for 12- to 18-months in case of a surge in hospitalizations.

The Vanderbilt researchers do not offer any comment on Lee's plan, only a guarded warning.

"Recent experiences in other countries remind us that a second wave of infections is not only a threat, but progress can unravel quickly," the report says.


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.