Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Piercey urges Tennesseans to forego even home gatherings

State’s COVID-19 cases 40% more than national average

By: - December 20, 2020 5:32 pm
Gov. Bill Lee addressing the surge in COVID-19 cases and the vaccine at his regular press briefing. (Photo: Sam Stockard)

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Dec. 17 -Gov. Bill Lee addressing the surge in COVID-19 cases and the vaccine at his regular press briefing. (Photo: Sam Stockard)

Officials from the Tennessee Department of Health unveiled data Sunday afternoon showing the rise in COVID-19 cases filling the state’s hospitals, and intensive care units in particular, and strongly urged Tennesseans’ to forego any social gatherings even in the home. 

“As you know, the latest numbers we’ve been dealing with are very dramatic and are almost certainly due to the Thanksgiving surge,” said Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner. “If we have another surge after Christmas, it will completely break our hospitals.”

As noted by national media outlets over prior weeks, Tennessee’s cases are over 40% more than the national average, Piercey added. More than 3,000 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized and of those, about 700 are in ICU beds. That means COVID-19 cases account for 25% of all hospitalizations and 40% of ICU cases. 

“Most infections have happened unknowingly because they’ve been asymptomatic,” said Piercey, adding many people think it’s safe to socialize at home. “It’s incredibly dangerous to even have a few people over.” 

As you know, the latest numbers we've been dealing with are very dramatic and are almost certainly due to the Thanksgiving surge. If we have another surge after Christmas, it will completely break our system.

– Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health

Piercey’s call came a little more than three hours before Gov. Bill Lee will publicly address Tennesseans. Lee will give comments via Facebook and YouTube at 8 p.m. EST, 7 p.m. CST. On Saturday, Lee announced First Lady Maria Lee was diagnosed with COVID-19. 

To highlight the severity of the current surge, Piercey said her department has received two requests for emergency ventilators supplies from systems in rural West Tennessee. Staff shortages are being augmented by the deployment of medically-trained Tennessee National Guard members, as previously reported, and many  many hospitals are moving medical professionals from surgical or outpatient applications to bedside settings. 

“Our contingency plan was to use contract staffing but those staffing agencies are maxed out in hospitals,” she said. “We are running out of options (for staff.) All the money in the world can buy more staff. There are no more staff members to spend money on – they are all at the bedside.” 

 

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.

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