Beyond the COVID-19 spikes: Tennessee’s top doctor points out successes, despite increase in cases

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, spoke with WREG sister station WATE in Knoxville on Thursday about the rising case count, hospital capacity and best practices for slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

The state’s top doctor believes looking at case totals alone doesn’t show the whole picture. In fact, she maintains the state is doing well with outcomes, such as death rate and hospitalizations.

The ‘ultimate metric’ and surge capacity

“For the governor and me and our team, we’ve decided that the ultimate metric here… is how many Tennesseans are we ultimately going to lose. Everything we do is to prevent and reduce the number of deaths, and also hospitalizations, but ultimately, deaths. Quite frankly, we’re one of the best in the nation in that,” she said.

Piercey also cited data showing Tennessee COVID-19 patients making up 4.9% of all hospitalizations. She argued, while COVID-related hospitalizations are higher than they’ve ever been in the state, they’re not growing at the same rate as new cases, and hospitals she said, are not being overwhelmed.

While she isn’t concerned about our surge capacity currently, she mentioned that could change in the fall, depending on the severity of the flu season.

She applauded the hard work of the state’s “incredibly sophisticated, and highly professional, hospital organizations,” and their “robust” surge plans to scale-up capacity if needed. She also mentioned also mentioned the states months of planning for alternate care sites, if they’re needed.

‘Once you have a hot spot, it’s too late then.’

Piercey encouraged the public to double-down on preventative measures to slow the spread of the virus, including in the areas like Sevier and Hamblen counties, which were recently dubbed hot spots.

“We can enact all the measures we want, but it means people have already gotten infected…. targeting specific areas is sort of like chasing your tail sometimes, because they’re already breeding infection there, so we want to mitigate further spread, but prevent it in the first place.”

On masks, model businesses

As some Tennessee counties and cities move to mandate wearing a mask in public, Commissioner Piercey said the administration believes “every decision lies at the individual level for personal responsibility.”

When asked about the Tennessee Pledge, Dr. Piercey referenced model businesses around the state, those who have found creative ways to clean, seat their customers at a recommended distance, all in an effort keep everyone safe. She encouraged the public to brag on them, publicly, to acknowledge the extra time and resources it takes from staff and management to implement the recommended health guidelines.

Back to school

In terms of the fall, and the return of school, Piercey urged parents to extend grace to district leaders, as they’ve never faced the type of decisions they’re facing going into the next school year. She also said the Department of Health works closely with the Department of Education, to ensure the fall is safe for both for the students, and also faculty and staff.

“Have a little grace, have a little patience, and we’ll be just fine,” she said.

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