Tennessee Health Commissioner: Hospitalizations, deaths still at 'critical stage'

Lisa Piercey AP photo 2.jpg
Posted at 1:24 PM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-23 16:32:28-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths continue to be at a "critical stage" across Tennessee, but it could take weeks before the state sees the effects of a potential post-Christmas surge, the state's top health official said on Wednesday.

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey provided another update on the state's COVID-19 situation, saying dozens of hospitals still can’t accept transfer patients because they are "completely overwhelmed by their own patients."

Piercey implored the public to "stay safe" over the next several days, adding that if people gather over Christmas and New Year's, like they did on Thanksgiving, we wouldn't see the effects immediately.

“The next few days and next couple of weeks are going to really determine how our hospitals are going to function over the next month," Piercey said.

For example, if people gather this week, Piercey said we wouldn't see the effect of a post-Christmas surge until the first or second week of January. It could take two to three weeks after infection until we could see another uptick in deaths.

"Remember, it takes a few days to get infected after you're exposed, and then it will take between five and eight days before hospitalization and then... after you're in the hospital for a few days, that's when you get in the ICU," Piercey said.

The department of health has been giving daily COVID updates all week as hospitals across the state reach a critical capacity point.

Piercey said as of Wednesday, 32,330 Tennesseans have been vaccinated across all 95 counties. She said the state is still finalizing updates to its vaccine plan and will release more information about who will be included in future phases of the state's vaccination rollout.

On Tuesday, Piercey said preliminary numbers indicate the state could get 90,000 vaccine doses per-week beginning as early as next week. If all goes as planned, Tennessee would receive 50,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 40,000 doses of Moderna’s each week.

It will begin the vaccine rollout to long-term care facilities next week.

Earlier this week, Gov. Bill Lee signed Executive Order 70, which limits indoor public gatherings to 10 people and does not allow spectators at K-12. Collegiate and professional sports are "subject to the rules, protocols, or guidelines of their respective institutions and governing bodies."

Listen to the full update below:


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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.