Vanderbilt doctor on quarantine fatigue: ‘We are not turning a corner’

Coronavirus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 3,500 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Sunday with 240 of them in Davidson County.

The state didn’t see more than 3,000 cases in September. So far in October, three days have surpassed that number in one week.

Health experts say quarantine fatigue is to blame for why Tennessee is going in the wrong direction when it comes to controlling COVID-19.

“People do seem to be tired of COVID and they just want to put it aside and go back to normal,” says Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University. “I’m sorry, but COVID is here to stay and it’s not going to disappear. This is a marathon and we’re going to be wearing masks for a while, so let’s just make it the social norm.”

Dr. Schaffner joined Mayor John Cooper and Metro health leaders on Thursday for one of their most grim news conferences since the start of the pandemic. Schaffner gave a stern warning saying “get with the program” when it comes to mask. He says his comments and the urgency in his voice was out of character, but necessary.

The city is on track to climbing back up to its peak in July. Then, Davidson County was averaging 400 new cases per day. In September, that number dropped to 100. Now, the average has climbed back up to 175.

“I thought we would be able to maintain our discipline,” Dr. Schaffner said. “In retrospect, none of us in public health and certainly our political leadership did not inform the public that once we got out of lockdown, we would have to keep masking and social distancing.”

As of Monday morning, three of Nashville’s key metrics are in the red category, meaning they have unsatisfactory levels. They are the transmission rate (1.2), 14-day new case trend and cases per 100,000 residents (27.4).

Last week, Nashville area hospitals warned the public that if the city can’t stop the surge in its tracks, a major rise in cases could threaten their ability to serve patients. Dr. Alex Jahangir, chair of the Metro Coronavirus Task Force, says hospital capacity in the city has dropped to just 5%.

“We are not talking about today, we are talking about next month and the month after,” Dr. Schaffner said. “We’re letting people know if we let our guard down now, we’ll be in further trouble down the road.”

The uptick in cases forced the Metro Nashville School Board to pause their phased-in reopening plan. Middle schoolers were set to return to the classroom this week, but now must remain in the virtual program until the district further assesses the situation.

“Our efforts have not been stringent enough and all indications show the virus is starting to spread more readily in the population than it was a few weeks ago,” Dr. Schaffner says. “We can’t let that continue because as we get together in the winter indoors for more prolonged periods of time, there will be more spread in group circumstances and then those people take it home to spread within families.”

COVID-19 in Tennessee

(This reflects what the TDH is reporting each day at 2 p.m. CST )

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