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What Tennesseans should know about novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

Update, March 30: 

For the latest information we’re sharing with our members and the public regarding COVID-19 and coverage, visit

Update, March 6:

Tennessee now has its first confirmed case of COVID-19, in Williamson County. There are now 14 confirmed deaths in the U.S., 13 of which have been in Washington State, the other in California.

Original story, March 4:

Reported cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), are growing in the U.S., and there’s a continued focus on the disease from the media, the medical and scientific communities, and public health officials. As of March 4, there have been nine confirmed deaths here in the U.S. None of these people traveled to affected areas, so we understand our members and neighbors across Tennesseans are concerned.

On Feb. 28, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the global health risk for coronavirus from “high” to “very high.” We recognize coronavirus is a serious matter, and we also believe taking preventive steps and practicing caution at home and in social settings are key to peace of mind and remaining healthy.

You can find the latest reliable information about coronavirus on the CDC and Tennessee Department of Health websites.

What we know so far

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that spreads from person to person. The majority of cases recorded have been in China where it was first observed, but it has now been detected in other parts of the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also confirmed cases in the U.S. with no direct link to international travel.

According to the CDC, as of March 4, 80 positive cases have been confirmed in the U.S., but no cases have been confirmed in Tennessee yet.

It’s important to remember that coronavirus symptoms (fever, fatigue, dry cough/sore throat) are common and mimic those of the cold or the flu. However, the virus can lead to severe respiratory illness such as pneumonia or other severe illness in some people, particularly older adults and those with ongoing medical conditions (such as diabetes or heart disease).

The coronavirus can be fatal, and so far in about 3.4% of reported cases. There is no vaccine for COVID-19.

What you should do if you’re exposed

According to the latest guidance from the CDC, you should seek medical care:

If you experience:   and you have:
Fever or signs or symptoms of lower respiratory illness (such as cough or shortness of breath) AND Had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of symptom onset
Fever and signs or symptoms of lower respiratory illness (such as cough or shortness of breath) requiring hospitalization AND A history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of symptom onset
Fever with severe acute lower respiratory illness (such as pneumonia, ARDS) requiring hospitalization and without an alternative explanatory diagnosis (such as influenza) AND No identified source of exposure

Always contact your doctor if you have concerns about your health.

If your provider tells you to get tested for coronavirus, go ahead and seek testing and get treatment following their instructions, just as you would for any other health issue.

Practice precaution for others by calling ahead to your doctor’s office or emergency room and telling them about recent travel and symptoms.

Finally, stay home and separate yourself from other people and animals as much as possible.

What you should do to protect yourself

Like any virus, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure.

Even if no signs or symptoms are present, take these steps to protect yourself and your loved ones:

  • Wash your hands frequently with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizer (60% alcohol solution) if soap and water aren’t available.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and dispose of it immediately.
  • Avoid close contact with others who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces (phone, keyboard and mouse, doorknobs, appliances).
  • Stay home if you’re not feeling well or have symptoms such as:
    • Fever of 100.4 F or greater
    • Chills
    • Muscle aches
    • Dry cough and/or sore throat
    • Headache
    • Fatigue

Currently, the CDC’s guidance on coronavirus is at a level 3 “warning” for China and South Korea — a recommendation that travelers avoid all non-essential travel to those regions. There are currently no other areas with level 3 warnings.

Iran, Italy and Japan have CDC level 2 coronavirus “alerts.” That means the CDC considers travel could be more serious for senior adults or those with chronic health conditions. Anyone in these groups should talk with a health care provider before traveling.

What we’re doing

We’re taking this situation very seriously and regularly monitoring updates from the CDC, WHO and the Tennessee Department of Health. And we’ll continue to do so as long as necessary for the health and safety of our members, our business partners and our employees.

For more information, read about how we’re monitoring developments and the interview with Dr. Suzanne Corrington on our WellTuned blog.

About Jesse Thompson, Senior Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorJesse joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. A Chattanooga native, he has more than 15 years’ experience in content creation, management, and strategy for consumer audiences, including a six-year stint in health care marketing.

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