By TRAVIS LOLLER Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Department of Health is advising doctors to use diapers and swim goggles to protect their faces if they cannot obtain personal protective equipment due to shortages related to the COVID-19 outbreak, a Tennessee doctor said Thursday.
Dr. Sonal Gupta spoke during a video news conference. She is one of more than 2,000 Tennessee doctors and nurses who petitioned Gov. Bill Lee to issue an immediate stay-at-home order to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Their warnings have become increasingly dire, with predictions of 40,000 deaths in Tennessee without more serious restrictions.
On Thursday, Tennessee was reporting 957 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with three deaths so far, according to the state Health Department. Nashville has the highest number of confirmed cases with 293, according to the city's coronavirus task force chairman, and a spokeswoman for Vanderbilt University Medical Center said 40 of their health care workers have tested positive so far. All are self-isolating at home.
Lee on Sunday ordered bars and restaurants to close for 14 days with the exception of take-out and delivery services. Lee's order also closed gyms, barred most visitors to nursing homes, and prohibited social gatherings of 10 or more people. He urged residents to work from home but has stopped short of requiring it.
Gupta, a primary care physician whose husband is an anesthesiologist, said they believe her husband will likely become infected at some point and he already is living in a separate room of their home to try to protect Gupta and their children. They hope to avoid the fate of an international colleague and his family. He was 40 years old and healthy but died from COVID-19 and his wife is struggling on a ventilator, Gupta said. They have three small children.
Gupta said she is working from home, but her husband does not have that option. He has been told to wash and reuse his eye shield where normally he would change it every time he leaves and reenters the emergency room. The state Health Department, in a weekly webinar on the virus, has suggested doctors use bandannas, scarves and even diapers in place of face masks and swim goggles or safety goggles in place of eye shields.
A spokeswoman from the Health Department said a webinar for providers did discuss alternative protective equipment.
In Nashville, the city's coronavirus task force chairman said Thursday that a shortage of testing kits is keeping the city from opening three community assessment centers. Tents are set up, health professionals are on standby and there's currently enough personal protective equipment for them, Alex Jahangir said.
Jahangir said a 2-month-old child is among those who have tested positive. The infant is at home doing well with mild symptoms, Jahangir said.
Also on Thursday, Tennessee announced a new series of public service announcements to encourage social distancing. The campaign has the tag line, "Do your part, stay apart," and features Gov. Lee plus dozens of Tennessee music artists, athletes and sports organizations, according to a news release. Collectively, they reach millions of Tennesseans through their social media platforms.
"The participants have recorded messages from the safety of their homes to emphasize that Tennesseans should stay home as much as possible," according to the release.
Meanwhile, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis was planning a virtual commemoration of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., 52 years after he was killed in the Tennessee city. The museum will produce a digital broadcast on April 4 featuring segments from past ceremonies, with remarks from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. James Lawson, friends and colleagues of the late civil rights leader. A choir performance, an excerpt of his famed speech "The Mountaintop," and a moment of silence also are planned.
King was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.
In other developments, the Tennessee Valley Authority announced on Thursday that it will provide credit support of up to $1 billion to help the 154 local power companies that buy electricity from the utility.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak