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Tennessee needs 'public health orders' to force COVID compliance, White House says

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Posted at 11:33 AM, Dec 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 12:33:24-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee needs to implement public health orders to force its citizens to follow guidance that will help slow the spread of COVID-19, the White House Coronavirus Task Force says in its latest weekly state report.

That report continues to list Tennessee in the "red zone," along with 81 of the state's 95 counties, for infection rates and positivity rates. Tennessee had the 17th highest positivity rate in the country.

"The depth of viral spread across Tennessee remains significant and without public health orders in place compelling Tennesseans to act differently, the spread will remain unyielding with significant impact on the healthcare system," this week's report says.

"Effective practices to decrease transmission in public spaces include requiring masks, limiting restaurant indoor capacity to <25%, and closing bars until cases and test positivity decrease to the yellow zone."

November was the worst month of the pandemic in Tennessee in terms of new COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths -- and hospitals are preparing for a possible "super surge" following Thanksgiving.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has refused to order a statewide mask mandate, leaving the decision up to county mayors, despite pleas from Tennessee's medical community, including former Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.

There are no statewide restrictions of any kind on restaurant capacity or bar operations.

The White House report warns that "we are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity; a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise COVID patient care, as well as medical care overall."

"We are also seeing clear improvement in many European countries that implemented strong public and private mitigation but preserved schooling," the report says.

"We are also seeing states and cities that aggressively mitigated achieving a high plateau and early stability in less than 4 weeks."

But states that fail to implement adequate mitigation efforts are seeing "sustained transmission or a very prolonged time to peak – over 7 weeks," the report adds.

"All states and all counties must flatten the curve now in order to sustain the health system for both COVID and non-COVID emergencies."

According to the White House task force report, nearly 60% of Tennessee nursing homes have at least one COVID positive staff member and over 30% have COVID positive residents, "indicating unmitigated community spread."

It also encourages Tennessee to "conduct active testing in schools for teachers and students where cases are increasing."

"In accordance with CDC guidelines, masks must be worn by students and teachers in K-12 schools. Consider pausing extracurricular school activities, even though athletics are not transmission risks, as the surrounding activities are where transmission is occurring."

The report also encourages testing of university students returning to campus from Thanksgiving break, continuing to test all students at least weekly until the semester ends.