Tennessee concedes to release more nursing home information

Published 12:34 pm Thursday, April 23, 2020

Associated Press
NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee officials on Wednesday finally released more detailed information surrounding confirmed cases and COVID-19 related deaths in its long-term care facilities after open government advocates, Democratic lawmakers and others urged for its release.
The state’s Department of Health had previously held off disclosing such information, saying that the state needed to protect “patient privacy.”
Similar to previous attempts by the state to withhold certain information during its fight against coronavirus, officials eventually reversed course by conceding that the information was valuable to the public.
“We take our duties to protect both public health and patient privacy very seriously,” said Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey in a statement. “Based upon the current development of the COVID-19 situation in Tennessee, the Department has determined that releasing this data is in the public health interest.”
According to the state, 37 deaths have occurred in the state’s long-term care facilities and at least 375 cases have been confirmed.
Yet discrepancies in the newly released data remain between what the state and local governments are reporting.
For instance, at the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing, the state is reporting 19 deaths after 161 people tested positive for COVID-19 at the center. However, Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown on Tuesday put the death toll from the facility at 21. Brown on Friday confirmed the 20th death from the center.
The Parkway Health and Rehabilitation Center in Memphis, meanwhile, has seen one COVID-19 death, the Shelby County Health Department first noted Wednesday. The state reported zero deaths there in its Wednesday information release.
Piercey told reporters that the discrepancies are to be expected because there is a delay in vetting the information on the state’s end.
On the federal level, officials said earlier this week that they plan to start tracking and publicly sharing information on infections and deaths in such facilities to help spot trends and early signs the virus is spreading in communities.
Overall, Tennessee had more than 7,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 160 deaths as of Wednesday. Approximately 4,000 Tennesseans have recovered from the virus.
Separately, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland on Tuesday extended a so-called safer-at-home order until May 5. During an online news conference Wednesday, Strickland said the order calls for big-box retailers to limit the number of people who can enter stores at one time, require stores to establish waiting lines with people standing 6 feet away from each other, and set aside one hour a day to allow access to customers over 55, pregnant women and people with serious health conditions.
His order also strongly encourages members of the public to wear facial coverings when entering businesses and allows five of eight city golf courses to operate, as long as players follow social distancing rules.
Strickland noted that Gov. Lee’s re-opening decision does not affect Shelby County. He said the decision to phase-in the re-opening of Memphis’ economy will be based on the number of new cases being stable or declining, hospitals having capacity to treat all patients, and testing and contact-tracing capabilities being sufficient to contain the virus.
“We must get back to business the right way,” Strickland said. “We cannot squander all the good we have done with our social distancing efforts to slow the spread of the virus.”
Shelby County’s health department reported about 1,900 cases and at least 41 deaths Wednesday. Ten senior care facilities or group homes in the county have reported cases, including 10 deaths.
Over in Chattanooga, workers at Volkswagen’s plant will return to work May 3 after facing a six-week suspension of operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve dedicated the past several weeks to implementing stringent health and safety measures,” Tom du Plessis, president and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in a statement. “After assessing the current situation, we’ve decided to resume production under clear safety measures and with the health of our employees as our highest priority.”
The Chattanooga plant employs 3,800 workers.
Jonathan Mattise contributed from Nashville, Tennessee, and Adrian Sainz contributed from Memphis, Tennessee.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak  and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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