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State official stresses importance of testing
Don Grisham.jpg
Dr. Don Grisham

If you’re infected by COVID-19, there’s an 85% chance you will recover completely.

Those were the words of Dr. Don Grisham, the regional director for the Upper Cumberland District of the Tennessee Department of Health.

Grisham spoke Tuesday morning in McMinnville at the weekly coronavirus press conference conducted by local officials. His statement came a day after Gov. Bill Lee extended his stay-at-home guidance through the end of April as state officials grapple with how to best deal with a virus that’s infected 5,823 and killed 124 as of Tuesday in Tennessee.

The flip side of Grisham’s remark is 15% of people won’t recover completely. Based on the latest figures from the Tennessee Department of Health, that translates to 873 people who will be negatively impacted.

Grisham described how quickly COVID-19 has spread.

“Just three long months ago, the United States obtained its first case of COVID-19,” said Grisham. “Since then, in three months, we have over a half million cases and over 20,000 people have died from it. Just six weeks ago, Tennessee had its first case and now we’re approaching 6,000 cases across the state and over 100 Tennesseans have died.”

Grisham said it’s crucial for all Americans to be tested. He pointed to the story of George Stephanopoulos, a current news anchor and former White House communications director.

Stephanopoulos tested positive for COVID-19 despite showing no symptoms. He said he was only tested because his wife has the virus and is extremely ill.

“Testing is widely available through the Health Department and it’s free,” said Grisham. “You can sit in your car and get tested for free.”

Saint Thomas River Park Hospital CEO Dale Humphrey said Tuesday the hospital has tested over 100 people for COVID-19 and all the hospital’s tests have come back negative. 

“Saint Thomas has shortened the turnaround time for COVID-19 tests to about 24 hours and beginning Wednesday there will be testing available that shows results in about an hour,” said Humphrey, who indicated hospital officials are working to improve coronavirus treatment.

“Saint Thomas, which includes River Park, is engaged in research protocol with the Mayo Clinic and Food and Drug Administration to obtain convalescent COVID-19 plasma for our patients,” said Humphrey. “Medical experts believe this has been shown to improve outcomes when administered to hospital patients early in their stay and hopefully this can avoid intubation and ventilator dependence.”

Humphrey shares Grisham’s belief that more people should be tested. He said nationally less than 1% of our population has been tested. Tennessee is better at 1.1%, he said.

“The positive news to report is that social distancing, wearing masks in public, and sheltering in place have thus far prevented a huge surge that could potentially overwhelm our hospitals and others,” said Humphrey. “Our predicted peak in Tennessee is April 19. Due to flattening the curve, current estimates predict we will have adequate ICU beds and ventilators to handle the predicted volume of COVID-19 patients. Your personal efforts have allowed those of us in healthcare the time needed to move from a defensive stance to more of an offensive position.”

McMinnville Mayor Ben Newman encouraged local residents to listen to stay-at-home orders that were recently extended till the end of April by Gov. Bill Lee.

“There’s no reason to go to the grocery store every day,” said Newman. “There’s no reason to leave your house to go to a place of business every day. Try to limit those trips. If you need things from the grocery store, try to get everything you need in one trip. Don’t make several trips.”

Newman also said it’s unnecessary for an entire family to leave a vehicle and go into a grocery store. He said it works best for social distancing if only one family member goes into the store while the others wait in the car.

Director of Schools Bobby Cox provided an update on the school system’s food distribution, which is taking place Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Cox said 10,000 meals were handed out Monday, 5,000 for both breakfast and lunch. Food is distributed on six school campuses, three sites off campus, and by 10 bus routes. Hours are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. three days a week.

Cox said he expects to receive more guidance on Wednesday about school closure “Hopefully we’ll know if we’re going to continue to be out for the rest of the school year,” he said.

Cox also addressed end-of-the-year traditions such as graduation and the prom.

“I assume we will probably have to move those dates,” said Cox. “I can promise you that if you’re a senior there will be an opportunity for a prom and there will be an opportunity for a graduation. We don’t know the date and time of that yet, but as soon as we have those plans in place we will get that out to you.”