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County suffers two COVID deaths
Lisa Piercey.jpg
"... the way this virus is transmitted, masks do a really good job of preventing its transmission."

By Chris Simones

The COVID-19 outbreak at NHC HealthCare of McMinnville has resulted in the first two coronavirus related deaths in Warren County.

According to the NHC website, two residents of the facility have died. The NHC patients are said to both be men in the 80s.

In all, NHC of McMinnville has reported 37 total cases stemming from its local facility – 24 patients and 13 employees.

Warren County’s confirmed coronavirus cases have doubled over the past week. Last Tuesday, July 7, Warren County had 81 cases. This Tuesday, the county had 164 confirmed cases, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

The Department of Health website, which often lags behind statistically, still doesn’t list a death for Warren County.

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey phoned in Tuesday to Warren County’s weekly coronavirus press conference.

“We’re learning as we go. We’ve never dealt with this before,” Piercey said. “What we knew on March 1 we know a heck of a lot more on July 1 and that’s good. I pray that we know more on Oct. 1 than we do today.”

Piercey explained that unfamiliarity with the virus is the reason some guidelines and suggestions change from week to week.

“One thing we’ve learned in the last 120 days or so is the way this virus is transmitted, masks do a really good job of preventing its transmission,” Piercey said. “There was an interesting study we found in Japan. With 50% to 80% mask wearing, the disease transmissions were reduced by 80%. Masks are a very effective tool.”

One thing doctors have learned regarding this virus is contrary to how virtually every other respiratory affliction is approached, Piercey said.

“What we know now is that patients do better if they’re not put on the ventilator,” Piercey explained. “In almost every respiratory disease, sort of the general rule of thumb is put them on the ventilator early which gives their body and their lungs a chance to rest, a chance to heal. It actually doesn’t hold true for this disease. We learned that the longer you put off the ventilator or if you can avoid it altogether, the better the outcomes are. If you have to get on a ventilator with this disease your chances of not surviving get really, really high.”

County Executive Jimmy Haley asked Piercey at what point should a county consider mandating the wearing of masks.

“You really need to do it before you see the problem get bad because once you’ve got a bad problem and once the numbers start ramping up you’re just starting to chase your tail then,” said Piercey. “The best time to do a mask requirement is really before it gets bad to prevent it in the first place.”

Dr. Piercey reminded everyone that the best course of action if you’re feeling symptomatic is to be tested. “You need to quarantine while you’re awaiting that result,” Piercey warned. “You could potentially be infecting everyone you encounter.”

President and chief executive officer of Saint Thomas River Park Hospital Dale Humphrey took the podium after Dr. Piercey signed off and reported the 21-39 year-old age group is currently testing positive more than any other demographic with 24% of those being tested coming back positive.

“Currently at River Park we don’t have any patients on a ventilator even though our volumes are up,” said Humphrey.

“I strongly urge you to wear a mask any time you’re in large groups and continue to practice social distancing and hand washing,” Humphrey stressed. “Locally we have seen businesses as well as churches have to close due to COVID-19 cases.”

Director of Schools Grant Swallows addressed those in attendance and said the plan to open schools on Aug. 12 is still in place. 

“We’re coming out of a time when we had to shut down our schools,” Swallows said. “We know the importance of having our students back in class and we also know the importance of safety and security for our students, faculty, and staff. We feel the best way to do that is by phasing in the opening as we agreed to at our School Board meeting last month.”

For the first two weeks of the school year, students with last names starting with A-L will attend school on Monday and Wednesday and learn remotely on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Students whose last names start with the letters M-Z will attend school on Tuesday and Thursday and learn remotely on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.