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NASHVILLE — While President Donald Trump wants the U.S. economy to "open" back up by Easter Sunday, Gov. Bill Lee said Tuesday that with the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus continuing to spread here "the impacts in Tennessee are not going to be over by Easter and we're planning for a long runway in both the economic impacts and the medical impacts."

Noting that different parts of the country "are in different stages," the Republican governor said "here in Tennessee we know that we have a tremendous challenge ahead of us. And we're gearing up for what is to come."

With 667 positive cases of COVID-19 now reported and two deaths officially, Lee said "we know that certainly the virus is spreading in Tennessee right now. Our numbers are going up. They're going to continue to go up. And because of that the unemployment in this state will likely go up as people are removed from the work force."

The governor added that "we're not afraid of what's coming. We're just aware of what's coming and we're preparing for what's coming." He was referring to issues such as adding hospital beds and finding additional sources of personal protection equipment for frontline physicians and health professionals seeking to combat the crisis.

Earlier Tuesday, the federal Tennessee Valley Authority utility announced that it was distributing 50,000 N95 masks in its seven-state region for health professionals to use. Lee said other companies are also stepping up to help.

State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey cautioned reporters during the governor's teleconference call that the two deaths in Nashville doesn't mean that is all that have occurred, noting the state may soon "hear of additional deaths" that haven't been reported. She said the reporting process is "fairly significant" and "there is a lag on that."

Asked how many people with coronavirus have been hospitalized, Piercey, a physician, explained patients sometimes present at hospitals as having pneumonia. It is still taking time on COVID-19 testing although she and Lee say the process is accelerating now with more tests and even shorter turn around times.

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

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