Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order Monday shutting down elective surgeries and non-emergency dental procedures and is asking healthcare providers to donate personal protective equipment to the Tennessee Army National Guard to provide hospitals.
Executive Order 18 prohibits hospitals and outpatient surgery centers from performing elective procedures and dental clinics from doing non-emergency work, Lee said during a press conference. It lasts until April 13. In addition to asking the healthcare providers to donate the protective equipment, Lee said, the order allows the state access to more ventilators.
Also, there are 615 confirmed coronavirus cases in Tennessee, including two deaths, the state health department said Monday. The department said it has improved its tracking process, which resulted in lower figures for some counties. The website is tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html.
Lee said, “There are a lot of hopeful developments” in the coronavirus fight in Tennessee.
He touted research in Tennessee to address the coronavirus pandemic: UT Health Center in Memphis is developing drugs to attack the virus; Oak Ridge National Laboratory is running computer models to study how the virus travels; and Vanderbilt University is trying to identify antibody therapies. Some of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology are using 3-D printers to create extensions for healthcare providers’ face shields.
“These are hopeful developments because I know we are going to overcome it,” Lee said.
The governor mentioned the Executive Order 17 he signed Sunday, which lasts through April 6, that prohibit gatherings of 10 or more; requires restaurants to only offer drive-through, delivery or take-out; allows alcohol sales with take-out or delivery with food for those 21 or older; closes bars and gyms; and limits nursing home visits to essential care.
Lee announced the creation of “the COVID-19 Unified Command,” a committee involving Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the Tennessee Health Department and the Tennessee Military Department. Stuart McWhorter, commissioner of the Department of Finance and Administration, will lead the effort.
McWhorter is leaving his job to head the committee. McWhorter appointed retired Brig. Gen. Scott Brower to serve as chief of staff for the committee, the state said in a press release.
“Gen. Brower’s special forces background and previous service as the Acting Senior Commander for the 101st Airborne Division has enabled him to pull leaders together and troubleshoot quickly in a crisis,” said McWhorter in a press release.
The COVID-19 Unified Command also includes: Patrick Sheehan, TEMA Director; Dr. Lisa Piercey, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health; and Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes, Adjutant General, Tennessee Department of Military.
Lee said the committee can “find innovative, quick, decision-making approaches” for challenges like testing, medical supplies, hospital beds, quarantine strategies and increased medical personnel.
Reporters did not attend the press conference in person but attended virtually. The new setup experienced some hiccups, so not many were able to ask their questions.
But one of several questions that were asked regarded whether health officials have seen cases in which the virus spreads among healthcare workers or patients. Piercey said officials have seen that happen in “isolated pockets.”
“I warn you, we will likely see more of that and want to reassure you our healthcare workforce is of utmost importance to us.”