Tennessee is poised to see rapid and widespread growth of coronavirus unless the state acts quickly to turn things around, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Monday.
The spread being seen in Tennessee is more dangerous than the first outbreaks in March and April, Birx said at a news conference in Nashville after meeting with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.
“Tennessee stands at that very important moment in time, where their test positivity has just increased into to greater than 10%,” she said. “Is this very moment where we can change the trajectory of the epidemic, before it goes into full, what we call logarithmic spread, as we’ve seen across the South?” she asked.
Birx said she was visiting Tennessee, like she had visited Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, because of concerns about the spread of the virus.
“What has really worried us is this particular wave of the Covid virus is very different than the wave that we experienced in March and April,” she said. It’s not just hitting cities this time, but also the suburbs and rural areas. And, as in other places seeing new bursts of infections, the spread is mostly among people under the age of 35. “Many of them were asymptomatic and spread the virus unknowingly to others,” she added.
Birx said she also spoke with Lee about how important it is for all rural Tennesseans to wear a mask.
“We've talked to the governor about the importance of mask mandates. I think he has a sound strategy that he's working through the state,” she said.
Lee said he would hold firm against a statewide mask mandate. “I happen to believe that statewide mandates are not the best strategy, they're not the best approach, and they don't effectively bring about the wearing of masks as well as other strategies,” he said, adding that “there's nothing off the table.”
“I've also said we're not going to close the economy back down and we're not going to. But, I appreciate their recommendations and we will, we take them seriously,” Lee said.
Tennessee added 2,553 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, the state’s Department of Health said.