NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group of Tennessee doctors on Thursday warned that reopening schools while the coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the state is “insane.”
Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, a primary care physician with a master's degree in public health, said that rushing to reopen businesses caused the current spike in infections and rushing to reopen schools will do the same.
Tennessee reported 2,479 new cases on Thursday, the second-highest single day total since the pandemic began. The state also reported 13 new deaths, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Tennessee to 796.
“Our state is now experiencing the worst we have ever encountered during this pandemic, and opening the schools under these circumstances is insane and irresponsible," Bono said during an online news conference. “There are no shortcuts. Teachers can't do their jobs until state leaders do theirs.”
Dr. Nick Cote, a family physician who leads a large medical group in Rutherford County, has a father-in-law in intensive care because of COVID-19 and a daughter who teaches school. He noted that, even in normal times, doctors see an increase in viral respiratory infections when school starts up. The new coronavirus may not have serious health consequences for a majority of children, but they are not the only ones to worry about, Cote said.
“The people who are not getting talked about are the teachers and the family members of the children,” he said. “No kid wants to bring home a virus that kills grandma.”
The doctors are part of a group of more than 2,000 physicians that previously urged Gov. Bill Lee to issue a stay-at-home order, which he did at the beginning of April. The group continues to urge Lee to issue a statewide mask mandate and to let science guide policy with regard to the virus.
Also on Thursday, Tennessee’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development said the state’s unemployment rate for June was 9.7%, down from a record of 15.5% in April. Unemployment has skyrocketed since Lee and city and county officials closed some businesses and limited the capacities of others in response to the virus outbreak. In June 2019, the state’s unemployment rate was 3.4%.
The department also reported that more than 22,000 people filed new claims for unemployment benefits during the week that ended Saturday. The department said it distributed more than $254 million to more than 269,000 jobless people in Tennessee last week. Since March 14, more than 710,000 new unemployment claims have been filed in Tennessee, the department said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and even be fatal.
Associated Press reporter Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.