Tenn. Doctors Plead for Stay-at-Home Order with State Model Predicting Up to 40,000 Deaths

NASHVILLE — (Tuesday, March 24, 2020) More than 40,000 people could die of COVID-19 if Tennesseans do not immediately reduce public interactions while the coronavirus pandemic spreads, according to local medical experts.

Two Tennessee doctors, among 2,000 medical professionals, are pleading with Gov. Bill Lee to issue two-week, statewide stay-at-home order, which they say will help prevent avoidable deaths while the coronavirus’ spread is accelerating.

“I’m asking the governor to do what’s right. Be on the right side of history. Save tens of thousands of Tennesseans potentially from this deadly virus,” said Dr. Aaron Milstone, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Williamson Medical Center. “Please Gov. Lee, put the stay at home in place tonight by midnight.”

Milstone appeared on a video press conference with Dr. David Aronoff, the chief infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center to present startling mortality projections they characterized as “conservative.” Their projections are based on multiple public models that weigh the prevalence of the virus in the community and the risk of dying from infection against current restrictions on movement.

The doctors estimate the number of COVID-19 related deaths in Tennessee could reach between 4,000 and  40,000 depending on what actions are taken to protect public health.

“These models are based on how many people in our state we think will get infected. Worse case scenario models tend to have 70 percent or so of people in Tennessee getting infected,” Dr. Aronoff said. “We don’t know exactly what it’s going to be… but if it’s 50 percent of people who get infected, that’s still over 3 million people in our state that get infected. And then if 1 percent of 3 million people were to die of this infection, you can see that’s tens of thousands. That’s what is really keeping us awake at night.”

They are sounding the alarm with the hope that Gov. Lee will do more to slow the spread of COVID-19, which is pushing the state’s medical systems and healthcare workers to a crisis point.

“Without action, tens of thousands of Tennesseans potentially may die of COVID-19,” Dr. Milstone added.

Three immediate mandates would make a considerable difference in reducing the virus’ spread, according to the doctors:

  • Immediate statewide, two-week stay-at-home order; and

  • Mandatory self-quarantine for anyone who has traveled abroad or to another state; and

  • Immediate closure of non-essential businesses.

“What happens when you keep our current plan in place versus a stay-at-home model,” Dr. Milstone said. “When you compare those two plans the difference is tens of thousands of lives potentially may be lost with the current model that we have in place in Tennessee versus tenfold less if we enact a stay-at-home (order) immediately in our great state.”

“Our ability to slow the spread of COVID-19… is really important because we don’t want to be overwhelmed in our ability to care for people,” said Dr. Aronoff. “One of the best ways to slow the spread is limiting our interactions with others.”

The models they presented in their press call assume a certain number of people in the state will get infected because exact rates of infection are still unknown.

“We took these models and used much more conservative numbers. We dialed back the prevalence... we dialed back the death rate from around 2.5 percent to 1 percent,” Dr. Milstone said. “The numbers 40,000 versus only 4,000 dying of COVID are much more conservative and we believe probably very realistic for at least the next 30 days or so.”

Earlier, these doctors organized 2,000 healthcare providers and nearly 15,000 citizens across the state to call for a stay at home from Gov. Lee. With 17 states now under stay-at-home orders, these doctors emphasize that to save Tennessee lives, our state must immediately follow suit.

Background: The doctors sent this letter to Governor Lee on March 20, calling for a Stay at Home order. Since then, thousands of Tennesseans have contacted the Governor, asking him to act immediately to prevent avoidable deaths.