Birx: Tennessee outbreak moves from ‘red’ to ‘yellow,’ but still concerning

Dr. Deborah Birx, leader of the White House coronavirus task force, said Wednesday Tennessee has been upgraded from a “red state,” with alarmingly high test positivity rates, to a “yellow state” with improved, but still concerning, levels of infection.

Birx made these statements during a private phone call with state and local officials. A recording of the call was obtained and published by the Center for Public Integrity.

Birx said coronavirus remains a threat regardless of if an area is red or yellow.

“If you are in a red or yellow county, bringing together family members, will create, potentially, particularly indoors, super-spreader events,” Birx said on the call. “We are finding that across the South and moving into the Midwest. 

The White House uses the “red” label to identify states or counties with a test positivity rate above 10%. Tennessee’s rate, as calculated by state and federal officials, dipped below this threshold for several days in late June. However, the latest data released by the state shows the positivity rate actually rose above the 10% threshold once again in the past few days.

The state’s rolling average of new infections has fallen to its lowest point in three weeks, but the outbreak is still growing. Tennessee recorded more than 1,600 new infections on Wednesday. 

Birx visited Nashville last week to warn Tennessee leaders that the state was on the precipice of a worsening outbreak. The encouraged all 95 county mayors to mandate masks – but not for Gov. Bill Lee to issue a statewide mandate – and said the state should close bars and cap restaurant capacity. Lee declined to follow those recommendations.

Brett Kelman is the health care reporter for The Tennessean. He can be reached at 615-259-8287 or at Follow him on Twitter at @brettkelman.


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