COVID-19

At least one COVID-19 case has been confirmed in Wilson County on Wednesday, and Gov. Bill Lee announced further steps to ease the economic damage being done by the coronavirus pandemic.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center confirmed in an email that “the first COVID-19 positive patient has been identified at Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital.”

The person was seen in the emergency room and is now at home in self-isolation, the email said.

Attempts to get more information from Vanderbilt and the Wilson County Health Department on Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Also Wednesday, local manufacturer Perma-Pipe informed its workers that a fellow employee had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Plant manager Alex Piercey said the plant is following all federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

A letter to employees said the affected person is away from the plant and isolated. It went on to say:

“This news, while difficult to hear, is not unexpected. Please be assured that the health and safety of our employees will always be our highest priority and we will continue to do everything in our power to slow the spread of this cornonavirus. Additionally, we will continue the deep cleaning of all areas of our facility. As discussed in meetings earlier this week, we have been taking proactive steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the plant. We started taking these steps prior to the employee testing positive for COVID-19.

“According to the information that we received from the employee’s physician, unless you are exhibiting symptoms, there is a very small chance you are infected.”

The plant employs about 100, according to Houston-based Perma-Pipe Senior Vice President Scott James.

It’s not clear if the Perma-Pipe employee is the same person referred to in the Vanderbilt email. The situation is further muddied by the fact that the state Department of Health reported no cases in Wilson County as of 2 p.m. Wednesday. Attempts to reach someone at the department who could clarify the situation Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The report shows the number of cases in the state at 98, up from 73 Tuesday.

Also on Wednesday, Lee unveiled a major rewrite of his proposed budget in response to the coronavirus crisis, slashing previously proposed spending to the tune of $891.4 million in one-time and recurring areas to fund emergency measures.

The list includes a special $150 million fund, as well as throwing an additional $350 million into the state’s emergency reserve fund to brace the state for what’s shaping up as a major recession, with tax revenues plummeting.

As the Republican seeks money to prepare, the governor’s changes for the fiscal year 2021 budget include cancellation of a $21.9 million proposed advanced manufacturing building at Chattanooga State. It’s one of four higher education building projects totaling $159 million falling to the budgetary axe.

The governor also eliminated his proposed $250 million mental health trust fund for K-12 students as he diverts funds to other areas while building the emergency reserve to $1.45 billion.

While public school teachers, state employees and higher education workers will still see some pay raises, Lee slashed percentage amounts.

“These are uncharted waters,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said, adding the situation Wednesday was “somber” after state Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter formally presented proposed changes.

Earlier, McWhorter told Watson’s panel that “we are now likely embarking on a recession caused by this rare health pandemic. Clearly, we are in a time of recovery, a time of preparedness and a time of many unknowns.”

A 4% increase for teachers has been reduced to 2%, cutting almost in half to $58 million the $117 million teacher pay raise he proposed.

Also eliminated is a proposed $40 million professional privilege tax cut, the governor’s $11 million literacy program and $10 million each for legislative initiatives, as well as the governor’s rural opportunity fund.

Lee is adding 10 state troopers and 25 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation field agents under the proposed spending plan.

Lee’s budget changes also recognize plans to double an already announced local government program from $100 million to $200 million as the state deals with the potentially deadly coronavirus. Many more cases are expected whenever testing becomes more widely available in Tennessee.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press contributed to this report.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press contributed to this report.

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