MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A new White House report is sounding the alarm about the COVID-19 crisis developing in the Mid-South. The White House Coronavirus Task Force says data shows 32 states are now in the red zone, with Tennessee among the top 10 states with the most new positive cases.
When asked about the report on Wednesday, October 28, during his press briefing in Nashville, Governor Bill Lee said, “We believe that the strategy we’re taking is the right one and the best one.”
Lee said he is confident with the state’s plan to fight COVID-19, despite Tennessee ranking 9th in the nation. The White House report goes on to say that despite President Trump’s assertion that increased testing is why the numbers are climbing, there was actually less testing in the U.S. last week, when this information was collected.
Lee said weekend testing in rural areas will ramp up. But he is still resisting calls for a statewide mask mandate. It should, he said, be left up to local elected leaders. He also stressed personal responsibility for every Tennessean.
“I think every mayor certainly should consider looking at the case counts in their states, and look at the growth of hospitalizations that are coming from their individual community," he said. “They certainly ought to be considering it.”
“And the trend line is really going straight up," Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force member Dr. Jon McCullers told WMC Action News 5. He says small gatherings are fueling the spread of the virus in rural areas where no mask orders are in place.
“And the trend line is really going straight up,” he said. “It’s even worse than where we were in July when we started the mask mandate and all these other things to try and get it under control.”
The fear is that local hospitals will max out on space for COVID-19 patients, and the $50 million alternative care facility on Union Avenue in downtown Memphis will have to be activated.
“The need for those beds at the alternative care sites,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey. “We’ve got the beds. We’ve got physical space. It’s the staffing that is the problem.”
Piercey said the state has $51 million available for hospitals to pay their employees overtime to work in the special COVID-19 facilities in Memphis and Nashville, or they can use the money as a recruiting incentive to hire new workers. But it’s not that simple.
“The problem is everybody in the nation is competing for staffing right now," said Piercey.
So while Lee keeps one eye on the economy, “I think it’s important for us to remember lives and livelihoods matter,” he said, medical experts are already raising the red flag.
“If we continue to see this level of increase in hospitalizations,” said McCullers. “We’re looking at having to open the field hospital within the next 4 to 6 weeks. So we need to do something to get it under control.”
The White House report ranks Arkansas 13th for new cases and Mississippi 23rd.