NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville health officials said Thursday that they are concerned rising coronavirus cases in surrounding rural counties could overwhelm the city's hospitals.
White House coronavirus task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx traveled to Nashville this week to implore leaders to close bars and residents to wear masks. Referring to her visit, Dr. Alex Jahangir, head of Nashville's coronavirus task force, said during a Thursday news conference that Birx had made clear to them the virus is increasingly a rural problem.
As rural hospitals begin to fill, they will start sending patients to Nashville, Jahangir said. The city on Thursday had only 12% of intensive care beds open, he said.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said the city is continuing to press for a coordinated response to the virus. Nashville currently requires masks to be worn in indoor public settings, as do most of the surrounding counties, but Gov. Bill Lee has rebuffed calls for a statewide mask mandate even as virus case numbers and hospitalizations have continued to rise statewide. Tennessee on Thursday recorded 2,049 new confirmed cases of the virus and 13 new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths COVID-19 deaths in Tennessee to 1,033.
Nashville is also going against the tide on school sports, with school officials on Wednesday requesting that all of the city's schools, both public and private, commit to no in-person interscholastic sports or extracurricular activities until at least Labor Day. That is in contrast to an announcement by Lee on Tuesday that he will allow contact sports to resume as long as they follow Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association or similar guidelines.
Also on Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said there were 19,461 new unemployment claims for the week ending July 25. That is the smallest number of new claims since the week ending March 14, when there were 2,702 new claims.