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East Tennessee nursing homes focus on enhancing precautions amid rising COVID-19 cases

Nursing home and Hospice care staff say they have a renewed focus given the outbreak in the U.S., especially now with one case in Tennessee.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced Thursday. Officials said it was found in a man in Williamson County. As of right now there are no confirmed cases here in the East Tennessee region.

States with confirmed cases around Tennessee include North Carolina, which has one case, Illinois with five cases, and Georgia with two cases.

RELATED: Middle Tennessee man tests positive for COVID-19 following flight from Boston to Nashville

As always, we want to avoid sensational reporting and keep this information in perspective. Health officials say the risk to Americans remains low.

Health leaders want to emphasize about 80% of COVID-19 cases recorded so far have produced mild symptoms. Of the more than 98,000 cases across the world, more than 55,000 have recovered. Doctors say many patients manage to stay home and recover without needing a trip the hospital.

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There have been 12 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. so far as of 11 p.m. Thursday.

Compared to the flu, the CDC says this flu season alone has seen an estimated 18,000 to 46,000 deaths. However, it's important to keep in context at the moment that's out of an estimated 1 billion cases of flu this season compared to 98,000+ cases of COVID-19 that have led to more than 3,300 deaths.

The most vulnerable group is the elderly and those with conditions that affect their immune systems. Nursing home and Hospice care staff in East Tennessee said they have a renewed focus given the outbreak in the U.S., especially now with one case in Tennessee. 

Several healthcare organizations met with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday to talk about their needs and plans if an outbreak of the virus were to happen, specifically within nursing homes and hospice care. 

It's all to make sure they're ready to handle what comes their way. 

Healthcare workers face the challenge of keeping their patients safe during flu season. For nursing homes, that protocol has been in place for months. 

"We're on the front lines everyday," said founder of Caris Healthcare Norman McRae. "No matter what the disease, healthcare workers are trained to use universal precautions."

The National Healthcare Corporation, NHC, has several locations in East Tennessee. Clint Hall, Director of Government Relations, said they're now screening visitors, partners, vendors and new admissions to keep any virus from coming inside.

As for those already inside, Hall said it's up to individual locations to restrict activities and time in the dining hall.

McRae focuses on Hospice care and is working to make sure staff stay safe as well.

"They know how to care for people with infectious diseases. They're gonna be there, they're gonna be ready to care for patients," he said.

He said although protocols are enhanced because of COVID-19, the focus still remains on the flu during its peak season. 

"I think the reminder to wash your hands, stay home if you're sick those things will help with both situations," said McRae. 

He was at the meeting with Vice President Pence. One issue that was addressed is making sure healthcare companies had enough personal protection supplies for staff like masks, gloves and gowns. 

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