Tennessee watching, preparing as coronavirus situation unfolds

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2019 Novel Coronavirus (first detected in Wuhan, China) illustration provided by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on texture, partial graphic. (Associated Press)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called the coronavirus outbreak “an emerging, rapidly evolving situation.” Tennessee health officials are watching developments closely and preparing for what could come.

“While there are currently no cases in Tennessee, we continue to monitor the situation closely. The Tennessee Department of Health will issue a statewide advisory promptly, if we determine that the virus has reached our state,” Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said in a release this past Friday.

Also on Friday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee attended a briefing with state health officials, saying on Twitter “We’re working closely with local, state, and federal partners to coordinate response efforts and remain prepared.”

Governor Bill Lee attends Dept. of Health briefing on coronavirus on February 28 (Twitter – @GovBillLee)

Earlier in the week, the Department of Health told News 2 that all EMS and dispatch agencies have been advised to screen for the disease.

Captain Josh Rice of the Robertson County Emergency Medical Services team said, “We’re asking if they’ve traveled anywhere outside the United States in the last two weeks, if they answer ‘yes,’ then we isolate it a little bit further to ‘Have you been to China?’ specifically mainland China and Wuhan.”

Also last week, several employees at the Electrolux manufacturing company in Springfield were told to work from home after returning from a business trip in Italy. A spokesperson told News 2 in a statement that several employees were on trips to Italy in towns that are now under a coronavirus quarantine.

“We have global operations and have implemented a travel ban to and from Italy. Employees who have visited one of the Italian towns currently under quarantine are working from home per public official guidance for 14 days following their return. We do not at this point have employees affected by the virus,” an Electrolux spokesperson said in a written statement.

In late January, a Tennessee Tech student who had recently traveled abroad was placed into quarantine after exhibiting mild symptoms that met the criteria for testing. Students were later informed the test had come back negative.

“We are so glad to hear this student is on the road to recovery,” Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham said in a statement released to News 2. “The cooperation and communication with local health providers and leaders was amazing, and I appreciate how Tech’s Health Services personnel were prepared to take the right actions.”

The University of Tennessee has suspended spring study abroad programs in China. Last Thursday, the university updated its web site to say – “Although the University of Tennessee has received no reports of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, officials with UT Student Health, Emergency Management, Student Life, the Center for Global Engagement, and additional offices continue to closely monitor the outbreak and are working to ensure the health and safety of all students, faculty, and staff.”

“The most important thing to know is that Tennessee is prepared,” Commissioner Piercey stated last Friday. “Our state has one of the best emergency preparedness systems in the nation, and we have been in daily contact with our local, state and federal partners to coordinate our response efforts, including specialized plans for our hospitals, schools, employers, prisons and military.”

News 2 is digging deeper into how local and state health officials and emergency responders continue to evaluate the global outbreak of coronavirus. We have special reports all day in every newscast Monday March 2. We will also be taking viewer questions to pose to a panel of health experts joining us for a discussion streaming live on wkrn.com at noon.

Visit wkrn.com’s special section on coronavirus for continuing updates.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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