The time Tennessee was the hotspot for COVID


Shelby County Health Department

As seen in the graph, the number of new cases in Shelby County increased immensely around the holiday season. Still, the number of cases only continues to grow.

“Tennessee is ‘worst in the world’ for coronavirus transmission,” headlines read Dec. 17th to the 21st. Tennessee, a place known for BBQ, a variety of music and the Smoky Mountains, was never expected to become the worst region nationwide, and some say worldwide, for COVID-19 transmission.  

“I was relatively shocked. I knew COVID was ramping up in other parts of Tennessee, but it was scary to think that it had spread so fast,” Phillips Pratt (11) said.  

In the Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville regions of Tennessee, there were at least 37,000 confirmed cases; Shelby County suffered the most with 82,000 confirmed cases, 1,000 new confirmed cases daily and about six COVID-19 related deaths a day.  Not only were cases piling, but ICUs in Memphis were also at 98% capacity and ambulances were backed up due to crowded emergency rooms. 

Coincidentally, cases were skyrocketing around the same time the vaccine was being released.  Some believe that, with the anticipation of the release of vaccines, people throughout Tennessee grew restless and gradually followed guidelines less and less. 

“Having the vaccine out has given people a false sense of security and allowed them to think, ‘Oh, this is all coming to a close,’ when, in reality, we still have months of this pandemic ahead of us,” Emmett Campbell (12) said. 

A Vanderbilt study in Oct. of 2020 revealed counties with mask mandates had half the deaths than counties without a mask mandate. However, fewer than 30 of the state’s 95 counties have a mask requirement. 

“How can I put this diplomatically? There are people who have very strong beliefs and are not easily swayed in their opinion,” Virginia Lafon, a Latin teacher, said. “The virus is so difficult to pinpoint, it was hard for a lot of people to realize what a real threat it was and how easily it can be prevented if people would wear masks.”

Policies, like mask mandates and social distancing, will not work if people ignore them. When a “safer at home” order and non-essential business closure was suggested, some Memphians refused to accept it because of the proximity to Christmas and blamed Tennessee governor Bill Lee for not mandating masks in the first place. 

“The surge that is occurring across America are because of decisions that people have made to gather inappropriately,” Governor Lee said outside of Regional One Medical Center on Thursday, Dec. 17. “No business restriction or mandate stops that kind of behavior.”

The tension between citizens who follow the COVID-19 policies set and those who neglect them continues to grow. 

“If you’re going to flaunt guidelines and go to a party or on a vacation or something, don’t post

about it on social media. It makes you look stupid,” Campbell said. 

The question continues to arise: is it really the people’s fault or are officials to blame?

“Tennessee’s officials don’t take them seriously, and when that happens, the citizens won’t either. There’s been a lot of misinformation that hasn’t been given the chance to be corrected,” Campbell said. 

Others think that some officials handled the spread well. 

“I think our mayor did what needed to be done: they put forth a mask ordinate, they shut down nonessential businesses,” LaFon said. 

The fact still remains, even with the release of the vaccine, it will take a while for this state to overcome the pandemic. Until then, to keep Tennessee safe, policies must be respected.

“Masks are the easiest way to stop the spread of the virus, if everyone followed it, COVID will slow

down,” Pratt said. “And for the stay at home orders, it really is your safest option to stay home and only go out for essential things.”