Citing ‘unacceptable' COVID-19 case growth, Tennessee doctors urge delay of in-person classes

Posted at 12:44 PM, Jul 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-22 23:53:24-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — Tennessee doctors are calling on Gov. Bill Lee to delay the start of in-person classes in counties that don’t meet COVID-19 health guidelines.

In a release Wednesday, physicians with ProtectMyCare said that 79 of Tennessee’s 95 counties are still seeing “unacceptable” case growth of more than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days.

“Reopening schools while COVID-19 is spreading uncontrolled through our communities needlessly endangers our children, their families and our teachers. We’ve seen what happens when a state rushes to reopen: Tennessee is now experiencing a new peak of this pandemic with entirely avoidable increases in hospitalizations and deaths,” says Dr. Kathleen Hunt, a Chattanooga-area pediatrician.

They also cited a recent report from The American Academy of Pediatrics, which said "science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools."

Physicians say reopening schools too quickly will cause “avoidable increases in hospitalizations and deaths.” They say the virus can be transmitted in the 2-3 days before symptoms begin and can also be spread by someone who is asymptomatic -- who never develops symptoms at all.

Governor Bill Lee has shunned what he calls a one-size-fits-all approach to schools reopening, instead letting individual school boards make the call.

But Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, who is part of ProtectMyCar, says most counties are in fact looking at the same problem, COVID-19 case levels high enough to close nursing homes to visitors.

"We are no longer individual counties in this situation, we are more uniform now than we ever have been," Bono said. "So now is the time for us to come together and come up with a cohesive, comprehensive game plan."

Bono says she understands delaying in-person school would put more parents in a bind, some having to choose between going to work and staying home with their kids as they learn online.

"I find that same crisis in my own home," Bono said. "Sadly, I have to take a step back and realize, without your health, you can’t go to work. Without your health, you can’t serve your economy."

Doctors say five guidelines must be met in order to safely open schools and urged Gov. Bill Lee and school officials to implement them.

  1. Report less than 10 new cases per 100,000 persons per day for at least 14 days in a row.
  2. Tennessee must catch up on backlogged contact tracing and issue regular reports to inform school reopening.
  3. Conduct rapid and regular testing.
  4. Require masks and social distancing.
  5. Hold employers and people who endanger others accountable.

ProtectMyCare is a group of more than 2,000 physicians who previously urged Gov. Bill Lee to issue a stay-at-home order. The group continues to urge Lee to issue a statewide mask mandate and to let science guide policy with regard to the virus.

Metro Nashville Public Schools announced earlier this month that students would begin the school year remotely, while other districts have announced traditional or virtual options.

Read more: A breakdown of how school districts are returning to the classroom