Nashville Mayor John Cooper developed a four-phase reopening plan that reflects the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Tennessee and the distinctive needs of Nashville.
Cooper developed the plan in collaboration with health, business and community partners.
Cooper said Friday that social distancing slowed the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading in Tennessee. In Nashville and perhaps in certain other parts of the state, the rate of transmission has fallen to the point where the number of new cases may no longer be growing. However, the threat of a return to exponential increases remains.
Cooper said epidemiologists and infectious disease experts agree that in the absence of strict social distancing, Tennessee’s numbers would once again surge. It’s estimated that a single infected person circulating freely could infect more than 4,000 people in a month. COVID-19 will continue to be a serious threat until there is an effective vaccine or more effective therapeutic treatments. Experts estimate that a COVID-19 vaccine will not be available until 2021 at the earliest. For the foreseeable future, living with COVID-19 is the new “normal,” Cooper said.
Currently, Cooper said Nashville and Davidson County are in the pre-phase 1 stage, which means city officials will continue to monitor virus cases.
Cooper said the guidelines to reopen the city and enter into phase 1 would be:
• a transmission rate of less than 1, meaning that each person would not infect more than one other person in Davidson County.
• a 14-day downward trend in new cases of COVID-19.
• adequate testing and PPE capacity for the region.
• a robust health care infrastructure to conduct contact tracing investigations throughout the community.
The city of Nashville has created a plan to reopen,” Cooper said. “This plan has been created in cooperation with health, business and community partners in Nashville. The hard truth is that our city will be living with COVID-19 until there is an effective vaccine for the virus. Living with COVID-19 means returning to work with COVID-19. We must proceed carefully to ensure we do not create a surge that will send us all back home.”
In the first phase of the plan, residents would continue to be asked to work from home if possible, schools would remain closed and gatherings of more than 10 people would continue to be prohibited. But restaurants and bars serving food could open at half-capacity with employees screened daily and required to wear facemasks. Retail stores and commercial businesses could also reopen at half-capacity and with masked employees. Gyms, hair salons and entertainment venues would remain closed under the plan. Doctors could begin to perform routine and elective procedures for those younger than 70 years old during the first phase.
Each subsequent phase of the reopening plan would be triggered by 14 days of continued progress on different disease-related metrics, including testing, hospital and contact-tracing capacity.
According to the plan, the first and most important indicator Nashville will monitor is the number of new positive test cases. Public health authorities agree that movement toward reopening should begin only after 14 days of significant declines. Although most cases happen within five to seven days of exposure, almost all are evident by 14 days. A sustained downward trend in cases in the 14 days is a requirement to proceed to the first stage of reopening.
“The sooner we take action to prevent the spread of this virus, the sooner we can return to normal life in Nashville,” Cooper said.
Conversely, a significant increase in active cases should prompt policymakers to halt movement toward the next phase, revert to an early phase of opening, or re-impose stricter social distancing guidelines.
Metro Public Health Department officials said April 24 that 2,176 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease were found in Nashville and Davidson County, an increase of 32 from the previous 24 hours.
The confirmed cases ranged in age from 2 months to 99 years. Twenty-two people died after a confirmed case of COVID-19. A total of 1,111 people recovered from the virus. The COVID-19 hotline received 276 calls April 23.
Cooper said city officials developed asafenashville.org to keep residents up to date on changes or next steps in the plan.
“I urge everyone to visit this website regularly for the latest coronavirus information and to stay updated on Metro’s coordinated response to keep all Nashvillians healthy and safe,” Cooper said.
Gov. Bill Lee issued the first steps from the state’s rollout of guidance and best practices for Tennessee businesses in 89 of the state’s 95 counties to keep employees and customers safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first industries to receive guidance through the plan included the restaurant and retail industries and started last Monday.
Lee said the announcement was the first step in a phased reopening of the state’s economy, which entails rebooting industries as they are safe to pursue in 89 of the state’s 95 counties.
The state is working with Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties on plans to reopen businesses. Lee said many Tennesseans face not only potential sickness, but also crippling financial hardship, particularly in the service industries.