NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey gave an update on the state's response to COVID-19 and its vaccination process on Tuesday afternoon.
Piercey's update comes as the state has begun to offer vaccinations to adults 70 and older as part of phase 1a of the distribution plan. The department was able to offer vaccinations to more Tennesseans due to an increased supply from the federal government. Piercey said she has been assured the increased amount of doses will continue for at least the next three weeks and could potentially increase again in the future.
Although the supply was increased this week, Piercey said it's still very low and not near the demand as there about 5 million Tennesseans who are eligible for the vaccine but less than 1 million have received one as of February 2.
As part of phase 1a, health care workers, first responders, long-term care facility residents and adults 70 or older have access to one of the two authorized COVID-19 vaccines. Piercey said all nursing home and skilled nursing facility residents have been given at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and assisted living facilities are more than half-way through distributing the first dose.
Piercey hopes the state will be able to move into phase 1b by March at the latest, which includes teachers, child care employees and adults 65 and older. She added that the teacher group is relatively small, with about 100,000 people statewide, which should allow them to move more quickly through this phase of the vaccine rollout. She said she estimates phase 1c, which includes the high-risk population who has comorbid medical conditions, by late March or April.
As of Tuesday, there have been 731,360 known COVID-19 cases and nearly 10,000 deaths. Active cases now stand at 32,497, which is a significant decrease over the last month. While the state has been reporting lower daily new cases, new deaths remain high. Piercey said this is due to a lag in data reporting on deaths and she expects the daily increase of COVID-19 deaths to begin to decline over the next weeks.
Current hospitalizations have also begun to decrease. Piercey said one in seven hospital beds, 13%, are being used by COVID-19 patients, however about three weeks ago this number was close to one in three. As for ICU beds, this number decreases more slowly, Piercey explained. She said about one in four, specifically 28%, of ICU beds are being used by COVID-19 patients, which is down from over half just a month ago.
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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:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Or at least two of the following symptoms:
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- 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.