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VOL. 44 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 3, 2020

Gov. Lee sees good news in virus model, urges vigilance

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Monday he sees "some good news" in a model projecting the coronavirus' spread and demand on health care resources in his state, but he cautioned that models change and depend on people following strict social distancing orders.

The Republican pointed to the model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which shows Tennessee may have enough hospital and intensive care unit beds and ventilators on a projected peak date of April 15. The number of deaths would be 587 by Aug. 4.

One important variable: The model assumes people are 100% complying with statewide stay-at-home orders through the end of May.

Lee's stay-at-home order is currently scheduled to end April 14. He said Monday he is "not looking to extend any decisions that we've made until we deem it appropriate."

"It is a welcome relief to get some good news," Lee said at a news conference. "But we also want to encourage Tennesseans that, while we have received some good news, we need to stay vigilant in our efforts. Social distancing works."

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tennessee increased to more than 3,800 with 65 deaths, the state said Monday.

Meanwhile, a Tennessee man has been charged with violating the governor's stay-at-home coronavirus order after a confrontation with officers at a birthday party.

Jeremial Lee, 28, also was charged Saturday with disorderly conduct, marijuana possession and possessing a gun without a permit, Memphis police said in an affidavit.

Officers responded to a call of shots being fired Saturday evening and found a large crowd gathered for the party in spite of the Republican governor's order to avoid gatherings of 10 people or more.

Jeremial Lee "became upset because of being told to leave" and threatened an officer, the affidavit said.

Another officer found a gun and what appeared to be marijuana in Lee's possession, police said. Lee did not have a gun permit with him, police said.

Jeremial Lee was arrested and released on his own recognizance. His arraignment is pending.

Lee's guidance to law enforcement on carrying out the order says officers should first seek to educate, then warn, then give the opportunity to comply, and if needed, take further steps including charging violators with a misdemeanor.

The emergency order law is punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.

On Monday, Gov. Lee's office announced $10 million in grants for small and rural hospitals facing financial strain during the coronavirus response.

Tennessee hospitals have postponed elective surgeries and spent funds for supplies as doctors and nurses fight the virus. Funding is capped at $500,000 per hospital, a news release said.

In Memphis, Mayor Jim Strickland extended a so-called safer-at-home order until April 21.

Also, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office said Monday that 14 employees and one jail detainee have tested positive for COVID-19. The jail inmate was treated at a Memphis hospital and is now quarantined at the county jail, a news release said. Additionally, Nashville saw its confirmed case in a local inmate, who has been placed in isolation and has mild symptoms, the sheriff's office said Monday.

And at the state level, one inmate and three workers at Tennessee Department of Correction facilities have tested positive, said state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey. More tests are pending, and some inmates are being quarantined in isolation, Piercey said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, and the vast majority survive. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia or death.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee.

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