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VOL. 44 | NO. 9 | Friday, February 28, 2020

TN health officials brief lawmakers on coronavirus

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee's top health officials warned lawmakers on Monday that the state will likely soon see its own cases of coronavirus, but they said they remain optimistic about the state's ability to respond rapidly.

Representatives with Gov. Bill Lee's administration, Department of Health and Tennessee's Emergency Management Agency briefed state lawmakers in a conference call on the state's preparations for COVID-19.

"Currently our health care facilities have the personal protective equipment they need to be effective and continue health care processes," said Emergency Preparedness Director Paul Petersen. "We have encouraged them to look to different ways to conserving those different types of equipment and supplies, so they have more supplies ready for the future."

Peterson said depending on the number of cases that arise in the state, emergency officials may be forced to order the closing of schools and the cancellation of events where "mass gatherings" of people are expected.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized Tennessee to begin testing for coronavirus, but state health officials say testing supplies are low.

"(The CDC) has indicated that they've been able to rapidly increase their supply of test kits and they plan to push out to state public health laboratories across the country throughout this week," said Tennessee Medical Epidemiologist Mary-Margaret Fill.

Democratic Rep. Jason Powell of Nashville asked if the state would need to ask the Legislature for extra funding for emergency response expenses.

Patrick Sheehan, director of the state's emergency agency, said his department had some flexibility to help cover such expenses, but said officials would would need an emergency declaration or help from lawmakers with a budget appropriation if expenses became too high.

Lee told reporters earlier on Monday there was a "great urgency" in ensuring the state had the test kits available as soon as possible.

"We feel confident that we'll have them, but part of this effort is trying to get out in front of it, making sure that we feel good about our ability to access tests when needed," he said.

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Reporter Jonathan Mattise contributed to this report from Nashville.

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