Published 4:53 PM EDT Jul 23, 2020
Nashville was among 11 cities the White House singled out on a private call Wednesday, warning local officials to increase testing and take “aggressive” actions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C., reported Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told state and local officials on a call that they should take quick action.
Other cities she identified were Baltimore, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
The call comes days after the White House team recommended tighter COVID-19 restrictions for Tennessee and “red zones” like Nashville and at a time when the pandemic in the state becomes increasingly worse.
Tennessee had its worst day Thursday for deaths and hospitalization yet. State officials reported 37 people died over the last day and that 109 people have people hospitalized statewide in the past 24 hours.
The death toll in the state has now crept closer to 1,000 and Tennessee is now averaging 74 new hospitalizations per day, the highest weekly average yet.
Chris Song, a spokesperson for Mayor John Cooper, said while the administration has joined many White House calls, officials missed today’s, citing other “more pressing” tasks that directly relate to the city’s COVID-19 response.
“The White House’s statement says nothing new and is based on old information that we have highlighted dozens of times over the past months,” Song told The Tennessean.
While Song said federal officials were right to highlight the surge in Nashville, he said “frankly, they’re late to the game.”
“We took aggressive action by mandating masks in June and moving back to a modified Phase 2 three weeks ago,” he said.
Local health officials reported 347 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday in Nashville. There has been an average 15% positivity rate among the tests done in the city in the past week.
On the Wednesday call, Birx said local officials should trace the contacts of patients testing positive for the virus in areas where test positivity is rising. She said there have been encouraging declines in test positivity in Phoenix and San Antonio, but warned that the outbreak was moving north, and to parts of the country like Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Nashville officials have been forceful in recent weeks in calling for the state and federal government to step up in their pandemic response. Without a coordinated plan, they said, the ability of Nashville and other localities to stop the spread of COVID-19 will be hindered.
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In response to the White House report last week, the mayor’s office said it validated the steps Metro has already taken to respond to growing cases, especially as the center of the outbreak has shifted to the city’s core.
Cooper on Tuesday said the report is the “latest evidence” that there is no coordinated federal response to address the national coronavirus outbreak. The lack of overarching federal strategy, he said, leaves counties to fend for themselves.
“County governments can do many things on our own. But responding to a global pandemic as an individual county is not going to provide the most effective response,” he said.
Yihyun Jeong covers politics in Nashville for USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @yihyun_jeong.