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Statewide Power Poll: Knoxville members' businesses and non-profits badly affected by pandemic

And more shutdowns could be in our future

Knoxville, TN  |  May 22, 2020 11:00am  |  By Bruce Dobie

Overwhelming numbers of Knoxville Power Poll members say the pandemic has negatively affected their businesses or non-profits, with over half describing the effect as "significant." A large majority is uncomfortable opening or resuming on-site operations for their organizations at this time. Members expect more shutdowns in the future, do not feel safe dining in a restaurant, and won't be flying commercial any time soon.

These are the latest results of a Knoxville Power Poll, which was also taken across the entire state of Tennessee. Surveys were also taken among Power Poll members in the state's three other largest cities (Chattanooga, Memphis and Nashville) and from our database of Power Poll members in the 91 non-metro counties.

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Health Disparities and COVID-19

By Dr. Andrea Willis

Senior Vice President, Chief Medical Officer

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

When compared to white Americans, racial and ethnic minorities often face higher rates of illness and worse health outcomes. This is true for common ailments such as diabetes as well as for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The disproportionate impact is evident right here in Tennessee. Despite comprising only 17 percent of the population, African Americans represent 21 percent of COVID-19 cases and roughly 33 percent of deaths across the state, according to the latest data available.

Why Coronavirus Impacts African Americans at High Rates

1. African Americans have higher rates of pre-existing conditions.

COVID-19 is known to have a greater impact on those with underlying health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes, heart disease and long-term lung problems are the most common health conditions among Americans hospitalized with COVID-19. African Americans suffer from those health conditions at a higher rate than other groups, making them more vulnerable to the more severe impacts of this respiratory illness.

2. African Americans and other minorities are less likely to be able to work from home.

African Americans and Hispanics hold a disproportionately higher rate of essential roles that require in-person interaction. They’re often more exposed to others who may be infected, or who are not practicing infection prevention recommendations. Many African Americans hold hourly positions and may not have health benefits or paid sick leave, making it more challenging to seek health care when sick or suffering from chronic conditions.

3. African Americans’ housing challenges may contribute as well.

African Americans and other racial minorities are more likely to live in densely populated areas, and people living in high population cities and in multi-residence properties may find it harder to practice social distancing. African Americans are also more likely to have multiple generations living together in one home. Younger members of the family who are working among the public in essential jobs may unintentionally bring the virus home and expose more vulnerable elderly relatives.

What BlueCross is doing to help lessen the burden in vulnerable communities

We’ve offered enhanced support to vulnerable communities by:

  • Educating community members on cost-effective COVID-19 testing available through local health departments
  • Providing funds through the BlueCross Foundation and working with local governments to support free testing for uninsured residents in Memphis and Chattanooga
  • Texting online resources from the CDC to BlueCross insured people who are high-risk and face social or health care disparities
  • Proactively calling BlueCross members who fall into certain high-risk categories to discuss safety precaution

We believe the best approach to maintaining health is an active one — we encourage everyone to build a relationship with a primary care physician (PCP) even before one is facing a health problem. For those who may not have an established PCP relationship, there will soon be additional options available to help make primary care more accessible and convenient. BlueCross has entered a joint venture with Sanitas to open eight medical centers in Middle and West Tennessee this fall with extended hours, to foster an environment for consistent care.

What Everyone can do to Protect Their health

  • Focus on your chronic conditions, even during this pandemic. Continue to maintain preventive care routines and follow-up appointments with health care professionals, even if it’s through telehealth. These virtual services are covered by insurance plans such as BlueCross and provide quality care from a certified physician from the comfort and safety of your home, 24/7. And regular follow-ups are one tool to fight against worsening uncontrolled conditions like hypertension and diabetes, the “silent killers.”
  • Be intentional about getting or staying physically active.
  • Eat a diet that includes fruits and vegetables.
  • Get plenty of rest or sleep.
  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Even with businesses starting to reopen, continue to practice physical distancing and wear masks and gloves in public places.
  • Disinfect surfaces in the home frequently.
  • Go to CDC.gov and use the symptom checker if you think you may have COVID-19 symptoms. The symptom list has now been expanded by the CDC to include fever, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell.

For ongoing updates about the BlueCross response to COVID-19, visit BCBSTupdates.com.

QUITE INTERESTING FACTOID: Typically, in our statewide Power Polls, the members from the 91 counties respond differently from their urban counterparts. Members from the 91 counties are more rural and skew more conservative compared to cities that count higher numbers of progressives. But in this survey ALL Power Poll members were much more in-line with their responses, regardless of geography. The picture was uniformly one of severe economic impact, the likelihood that bad times could continue, and the feeling that workplace patterns may change forever.

(Preface: A total of 312 Knoxvillians were surveyed, 109 responded, for a 34.94% response rate. For the state as a whole, 3,121 Power Poll members were surveyed, with 800 responding, for a 25.63% response rate. For complete responses from all cities, the 91 non-metro counties, and the state as a whole, select an area from any chart.)

Survey Questions and Responses


The degree to which Power Poll members' organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) have been negatively affected is dramatic. Over five in ten members in Knoxville, and over four in ten in the state as a whole, are experiencing "a significant negative effect." Over two in ten in Knoxville are experiencing a "slightly negative effect." Those responses are alarming evidence of the severe economic repercussions of the pandemic. Power Poll members include a number of CEO's of private and public businesses, Chamber of Commerce heads, and influential private sector actors. In answering this question, they provide an extraordinary insight into this economic calamity.

Looking to the future, with respect to how we re-open and restructure our individual workplaces, it would appear that the changes many organizations have introduced might be long lasting. Only about one-third of respondents in Knoxville would be comfortable re-opening their organizations according to old, pre-pandemic practices. (That figure is about one-fourth statewide.) Many have speculated that the pandemic will usher in permanent changes in the way we use office space and report to work. Power Poll responses indicate that about one-third believe their organizations "will continue indefinitely" with staggered work-flows, tele-commuting, and probably a whole lot more Zoom.

The future is precarious. In every county in the state, residents have experienced some measure of restrictions in terms of how we gather, with the urban areas taking more severe measures owing largely to population density and interventionist mayors. Judging by Power Poll members, such measures are not over. A whopping 78% of Knoxvillians say that they expect more shutdowns, full or partial, because of what they see will be ups and downs of the virus continuing to spread. In terms of all Power Poll members statewide, that number is identical—78%. Basically, members predict we will have more recurrence and retrenchment.

Two relatively personal questions were attached to the survey, to gauge how our Power Poll members are engaged in going about their lives. First, do members feel safe in dining in a restaurant? Just over a majority in Knoxville—53%—say no. Statewide, that number was 61%. The economic damage done to this sector of our economy will be significant.

As far as returning to crowd-heavy activities, we asked which activities members were most likely to avoid. The answer among Knoxville Power Poll members was airline travel, at 36%. Statewide, attending concerts received the most votes.

Perhaps prophetically, Power Poll members do not appear to have much concern about returning to our institutions of faith for spiritual nourishment. Only 3.67% of Knoxvillians say they will wait a while before returning to services at their church, synagogue, mosque, or other institution.

One can only guess that we all feel troubled. We all have profound questions. We are reckoning with bad stuff, much out of our control. Whatever the risk, religious solace and our Gods' wise counsel is in high demand.


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