Six Months After Tennessee’s First COVID Death, Dozens Die Some Days Without Mention

Sep 22, 2020


U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leigh Crane, an aerospace medical technician with the Tennessee Air National Guard, administers a COVID-19 test to a drive-up patient March 30, 2020 in Livingston, Tennessee.
Credit Master Sgt. Jeremy Corneliusvia DVIDS

Thirty-two new deaths from the coronavirus in Tennessee would have been every headline for days in March. But six months later, the rising death toll jumped on Friday with almost no attention from the public. The first confirmed death in Tennessee was a Davidson County man, March 20. He was 73 with underlying conditions — like many who’ve been claimed by COVID-19. More than 2,216 people in Tennessee have died since then, with no end in sight.

The current number of fatalities exceeds the initial projections from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in March, which were dismissed by many at the time as impossibly high.

Local pandemic modelers at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine have steered clear of trying to predict deaths and instead focused on hospitalizations — which tend to go hand in hand.

“It’s very difficult to say with any degree of precision whether things will get better or worse from here, at least projecting out farther than a month or two,” says Vanderbilt health economist John Graves.

The University of Washington is one of the few places making state-level predictions. Their models say Tennessee could see death totals eclipse 6,000 by the end of the year if restrictions keep lifting. But with universal masking, the projections suggest fatality rate could be held in check.

Tennessee has never mandated masks but it was quick to lock down nursing homes after some early outbreaks. Epidemiologists credit that move with helping keep the mortality rate below much of the country.

Younger people who tend to survive the virus are also driving many of the new cases. And hospitals have learned how better to treat COVID-19 patients since the early days of the pandemic.

This story was reported by WPLN