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One year later: Tennessee is still working to rebound after a year of fighting COVID-19

veteran vaccination
Posted at 10:36 AM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 21:22:09-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's been one year since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Tennessee, and in that time more than 3/4 of a million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across the state. For more than 11,500 Tennesseans, contracting COVID-19 cost them their lives.

Tennesseans have stayed strong through the quarantines, mask mandates and cancellations. As we reach one year since the first confirmed case in the state, there's light: new and active cases are declining and vaccinations are accelerating.

First Confirmed Case

On March 5, 2020 Governor Bill Lee and Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey announced the first case to hit the state. A 44-year-old man Williamson County man tested positive and was required to quarantine at home. He had been on a nonstop flight to Boston before getting sick.

First confirmed case of coronavirus in Williamson County

At that point, only 11 people had died from the virus in the U.S.

In the next seven days, the impact on the virus on all of our lives became a lot more clear. Only 18 Tennesseans had tested positive for the virus, but the 2020 SEC Basketball Tournament in Nashville was canceled and Vanderbilt University Medical Center was preparing by setting up a temporary triage area in one of its parking garages.

That's when Governor Lee issued a State of Emergency to ease restrictions and give the state the resources it needed to combat the virus.

Tennessee Department of Health officials reported the state's COVID-19-related death on March 21.

Staying Home and Wearing Masks

On April 2, Gov. Lee signed an executive order requiring all Tennesseans to stay home unless carrying out essential activities. Initially state officials "recommended" people stay home when possible and encouraged employers to allow staff to work from home.

But it wasn't enough to help "flatten the curve." Models showed that people were on the move again, meaning more COVID-19 cases would soon follow.

The order would last until April 30, when state health officials reported an improvement in the numbers. The governor would not issue another stay-at-home order, but continued to encourage residents to continue to stay home when possible.

Unlike many states, including neighboring Kentucky, Gov. Lee also never issued a mask mandate, but he did sign an executive order giving county mayors the authority to issue mandates for their respective counties.

Many mayors took advantage of the order and issued mandates, some of which are still in effect. But others, like Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, said doing so would "infringe on [people's] liberties" - a belief that other county mayors and many other Tennesseans agreed with.

Schools, Businesses Close and Tourism Dollars Lost

Along with the stay-at-home order came capacity restrictions for businesses and restaurants. Those restrictions were lifted for 89 counties in October and the governor encouraged people to continue taking precautions and practice social distancing.

But for some counties like Davidson and Shelby, which have taken a huge hit by the pandemic, restrictions remain in place. In fact, Nashville just recently allowed restaurants and bars to increase their capacity from 75 to 125 people per-floor.

Many locally-owned businesses didn't survive the pandemic. Less foot traffic and increased restrictions were too much for many shops and restaurants to recover from.

And it wasn't just small businesses that took a hit. Nashville's tourism industry lost billions.

The Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation reported 1,508 meetings/conventions were canceled due to the pandemic, which represented 1.3 million hotel room nights and more than 860,000 attendees.

Those meetings were expected to generate nearly $650 million in direct spending, $52 million in state taxes, and $55 million in local taxes.

Instead, the Nashville Music City Center was prepped by the Army Corps of Engineers for a temporary site to treat a possible overflow of COVID-19 patients. And in February of 2021, it was opened as a mass vaccination site where people are continuing to be vaccinated.

NCVC officials estimated a total loss of nearly $4.5 billion in visitor spending by the end of 2020.

Shortly after the first case was confirmed in early March, the Williamson County School district closed its doors. As cases began to increase, other districts followed suit.

Virtual learning programs were put into place allowing students to continue to learn while remaining socially distant.

Kindness Wasn't Canceled

The pandemic has taken a toll on so many communities throughout the mid-state. Families lost loved ones or were separated from them for extended periods of time. Unemployment rates hit an all-time high and claims continue to be filed.

But even in the sadness, one thing that continues to be seen is kindness. Neighbors and volunteer groups stepped up to help those in need.

Read more uplifting stories about how "Kindness Isn't Canceled" here.

The first COVID -19 case was confirmed in Middle Tennessee just days after deadly tornadoes ripped through communities, claiming 25 lives and destroying communities.

Cleanup efforts were slowed, due to the pandemic but they didn't stop completely. Business owners, volunteers and neighbors maked up and continued to work.

WATCH: Tennessee Tornadoes: One Year Later

Tennessee Tornadoes: One Year Later

Tennessee Begins to Rebound

As health officials begin to report a decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, restrictions have been lifted for most of the state. Masks have become commonplace, allowing people to continue working safely.

Vaccinated health care workers were able to more safely treat patients and even began volunteering their time.

Schools began to reopen to in-person learning, and the recent vaccination of teachers in some counties is giving teachers and staff the safeguards they need to fully return to the classroom.

The Rebound is not complete, and we still have a long road ahead of us. But if this year has taught us anything, it's that the Volunteer State has lived up to its name.