The coronavirus outbreak in Nashville that once centered in Antioch and other southeastern neighborhoods is shifting to the city’s center, spreading among downtown residents and patrons of bars, honky-tonks and other crowded Lower Broadway businesses.

The city government on Tuesday released heat maps showing the virus is spreading fastest and furthest in the downtown area, and leaders said the outbreak threatens to push hospitals to the brink in the coming weeks or months if left unchecked.

The virus moving downtown also means new infections are shifting from older, Latino populations to younger, non-Latino residents, said Dr. Alex Jahangir, head of the city’s coronavirus task force. Younger people are less likely to suffer serious complications from the virus but can still spread it to others who are more vulnerable.

“These young people, more than likely, are not going to get sick. Statistics will tell you that,” Jahangir said. “But two weeks from now, those people will infect their parents or grandparents. Those individuals will get sick and take up more hospital capacity.”

As the outbreak swells downtown, the city faces the virus on at least three fronts. Infections are rising among downtown residents, many of whom live clustered in the high-rise apartments of the Nashville skyline. Contact tracing also backtracked clusters of new infections to bars, which prompted the mayor to close all bars for two weeks starting last Friday. Finally, officials acknowledged the ongoing “challenge” of Nashville’s “transportainment industry” — pedal taverns, party tractors and the like – which continue to operate at half capacity.

Health Director Michael Caldwell said pedal taverns and similar vehicles are preferable to bars because they are outside and therefore less likely to spread the virus. Crowds continued to gather on these vehicles throughout Independence Day weekend, drinking and cheering as they idled between the shuttered honky-tonks on Lower Broadway.

“I’ve noticed that a number of them are not properly social distancing, they’re not wearing face masks and it is a concern that I have,” Caldwell said. “We are going to continue to work on trying to find ways to get them to be more compliant.”


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Although bars remain closed on Lower Broadway, the street was busy last weekend with people waiting in line to enter restaurants and pedestrians, many of whom defied the city’s mandates to wear masks or stay six feet apart. The crowds drew some calls for Nashville leaders to close the city to tourists. Jahangir said Tuesday there had been no discussions about limiting travel, affirming “Nashville is open.”

As of Tuesday, the coronavirus had spread to more than 12,000 Nashville residents, of which approximately 4,000 remain actively infected and 167 are currently hospitalized. Officials reported five new deaths on Tuesday — including a 30-year-old man with no known prior…