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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Gov. Bill Lee.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is calling the Trump administration's plan to begin distributing a COVID-19 vaccine to states possibly as early as Nov. 1 "a very hopeful prospect."

The Republican governor also told reporters Thursday during his weekly news conference that both his and fellow Tennesseans' decisions as to getting vaccinated will be "a personal choice for individuals and should be made in consultation with their doctor."

"I'll determine if I believe it is safe and effective and talk to my doctor," Lee said.

The governor said the federal government "has reached out to states already to begin the planning process for distribution, for the time when a safe and effective vaccine is available.

"There are many miles to go before a vaccine is ready to be approved," Lee said. "But at the request of the Trump administration, we are working to develop a distribution plan in our state so that those who want a vaccine can get it."

Calling it "very early in the process," Lee said officials are "working through logistics of distribution."

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that states' public health departments, which have struggled for months to test and trace everyone exposed to the coronavirus, were informed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prepare to distribute COVID-19 vaccines as early as Nov. 1.

State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said "a lot of that is still being worked out," noting Tennessee may have a few hundred thousand vaccine doses and not a million. It is a phased rollout and federal officials will be providing additional guidance, she said.

The state may get two different vaccines, Piercey added, but that remains unclear. Meanwhile, Piercey delivered her own dose of skepticism about Tennessee getting vaccines on Nov. 1, saying, "I will caution you to take that Nov. 1 with a grain of salt."

When asked about safety and efficacy of the vaccines, which will not have undergone the full trial process, the commissioner said there has been a balance between trying to get the vaccines out quickly and safely, noting some of the vaccines are in Phase 3 trials.

"That is a personal decision that people and their personal doctors should make for themselves," Piercey said, adding the vaccines being distributed will be for adults and not for children.

 

School data

Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn also announced that the state will begin providing more detailed information on COVID-19 cases in public schools without compromising students' privacy.

Lee and Schwinn had been saying for weeks that federal privacy laws prevented release of school-specific data but did provide school system information on infections. But when challenged that some other states were providing some school-specific data, he and administration officials explored the issue further.

Schwinn announced the plan on Thursday, saying that in response to conversations with federal officials, the department created a dashboard on its website where parents and the general public can find some school-level information about coronavirus infections.

The new dashboard, set to go live Tuesday, will have once-a-week details on new student and staff coronavirus cases for all but the smallest public schools, those with less than 50 students, Schwinn said. Also, schools reporting fewer than five positive COVID-19 cases involving students or staffers will be listed as having active cases but no specific numbers.

 

Case reporting

Meanwhile, Piercey announced changes in the definition of what constitutes "active" COVID-19 cases. Up until Thursday, the state was counting an active case for people testing positive for 21 days. It is now recognized by the state as active for up to 14 days.

As a result, active case counts will drop statewide and for individual counties, Piercey said. She said the decision to change to the 14-day definition is based on additional information gleaned about the potentially deadly disease's duration, originally pegged at 21 days.

Due to yet another change, Piercey said an estimated 1,700 COVID-19 cases will be reattributed from one county to another, affecting case numbers for some two dozen counties. That's because the reporting, based on a person's home address ZIP code, failed to take into account that some ZIP codes are split between two counties. Piercey said Carter County in Northeast Tennessee would be most affected, with an additional 73 cases attributed to the county.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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