A year of COVID-19: Timeline of the pandemic in East Tennessee

Coronavirus

(WATE)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A year has passed since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic and in those 365 days, much else has occurred and changed how most operations function.

Reports indicate the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 originated in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization had declared the global coronavirus crisis to be a pandemic. Previously, WHO had declared the coronavirus as a public health emergency on Jan. 30. The first case of the novel coronavirus in the US had been reported in mid-January in Washington state. COVID-19 has since spread into the United States. The first case in Tennessee was reported confirmed by state health officials in Williamson County on March 5, 2020.

Currently, as of 11 March 2021, WHO has reported 117,799,584 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2,615,018 deaths, reported to WHO. As of 9 March 2021, a total of 268,205,245 vaccine doses have been administered.

This story focuses on changes from a year ago to now with an emphasis on Tennessee.

A more timeline plus COVID-19 case count-oriented story with additional timeline stories from throughout 2020 can be found here.

What’s changed since 11 March 2020?

Vaccines

The most prominent change since the COVID-19 crisis was declared a pandemic is arguably the development of vaccinations against the virus, which began days into the pandemic.

While the pandemic was declared in March 2020 by the WHO, testing and trials for the vaccine development had begun before then. The Associated Press reported the mRNA-1273 vaccine has “shown promise” in animal models, and this is the first trial to examine it in humans, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Scientists able to quickly develop mRNA-1273 because of prior studies of related coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

By December 2020, vaccinations had been approved by the CDC and the FDA in emergency efforts.

As of March 2021, three COVID-19 vaccines had been approved for distribution: Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Hospital procedures

The way hospital and health care facilities operate has been changed by the pandemic. Issues such as overcrowding, understaffing and lack of equipment concerns were spotlighted early on in the crisis. Now, most facilities are establishing vaccine clinics and the average rate of patients is going down a year later, marking a stark contrast to how medical facility staff have had to adapt has been a history-making process.

Visitation to hospitals was also restricted. Some restrictions are still in place despite the vaccine development.

Emergence, uptick of TeleHealth

Getting medical advice from a professional — from a distance. Healthcare workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic wanting to do more checkups from home began pushing for more virtual medical appointments for patients. Early into the pandemic, many began practicing what is known as “telehealth” and doing all of his appointments virtually. That includes regular primary care visits, surgery follow-ups and even potential coronavirus cases.

Social distancing, masks guidelines

The term, “social distancing” was quickly added to the forefront of health officials’ vocabulary. The CDC defines the term as “keeping a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your household.” The CDC also recommends practicing social or physical distancing staying at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Along with social distancing, public health officials encouraged people to follow the other “five core actions” such as wearing a mask or face covering, washing hands frequently, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces and staying home when feeling ill.

Travel operations

International travel restrictions were implemented early in the pandemic and some guidelines and rules remain in place such as mask wearing.

The CDC recommends planning ahead while traveling during the pandemic. Because of the international health emergency restrictions regarding COVID-19 have been ongoing. As of February 2021, the CDC says that all air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States.

School operations

Schools including public/private primary schools, colleges, day cares and universities shut down early in the pandemic in order to help stop the spread.

For school districts around the state of Tennessee, students went on their spring breaks in March and did not return for the 2019-2020 academic school year after Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order in mid-April 2020. Many chose to provide online instruction, raising questions of internet accessibility and resources for families. Reopening those schools a few months later proved a complicated matter in which school boards across the state and the state’s education department itself was fully involved.

As of March 2021, thanks to federal tax dollars from the CARES Act that allotted millions to schools, many districts in Tennessee were able to afford devices for students to take home should online learning be implemented during the pandemic.

As teacher, staff, substitute attendance fluctuated due to the virus, online learning was utilized by many school districts in the area. Parents and guardians had to also learn, in a way, how to help their child succeed at online learning skills, as well.

Business practices and operations

The question of “essential” versus “nonessential” businesses was front and center at the beginning of the pandemic. As businesses were forced to close to help stop the spread, according to officials, the difference between what was considered too essential to close and not was spelled out.

Many small businesses that were deemed nonessential never reopened. Business owners expressed their frustrations far and wide, while many workers at these businesses either had to file for unemployment or try to get work elsewhere.

Operations practices were also changed to combat the virus’ spread; such as implementing mask mandates, local rules for a businesses to remain open, social distancing guidelines and signage plus crowd control and more.

A year later, many businesses still have signage up regarding the five core actions and have policies in place with COVID-19 top of mind.

Disinfectant sales, uses

Sales of disinfectant and cleaning products skyrocketed and major bulk retailers like Costco and Sams Club are still unable to keep most of those items stocked in brick-and-mortar stores.

Companies like Lysol and Clorox saw its public shares increase.

A year later, local East Tennessee companies are still trying to keep up with the demand for disinfectant products like wipes. The Tranzonic Companies said in a press release this week that it has invested more than $2 million to manufacture disinfecting wipes for its commercial and industrial customers at its West Knoxville facility. It previously distributed wipes made by other companies and anticipates that heightened demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic will continue because of changing customer needs and habits. The company was hiring 20 new employees to help meet demand for all its products.

Mental health issues, resources

Because of the prevalence of social distancing and staying home amid the pandemic, many people felt isolated and struggled mentally.

In Knox County, the rate of suicides went up in 2020 as well as reports of anxiety. Local groups are aiming to assist people with their mental health needs safely, but it takes time and effort.

A survey by Pew Research shows 48% of Americans responded saying they felt depressed about the pandemic from three days to seven days a week. 43% felt anxious and 42% felt lonely sometimes from three to seven days a week.

Those who suffer from episodes of depression, poor performance at work or school, or trouble keeping up with personal responsibilities should not delay in getting help.

The pandemic has not made things easier.

The mental health screening is available on the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee’s website, https://www.mhaet.com/

Website pages

Virtually every major company or business had to add information regarding COVID-19. Government agencies also had to add entire web pages dedicated to tracking, reporting and posting COVID-19 data and information.

Unemployment rates

Because of the closure and shut-down of businesses, many workers lost their income streams and had to file for unemployment.

The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development had to hire hundreds of extra workers to try and keep up with the unprecedented amount of state unemployment claims.

Government, civics operations

Court proceedings as high up as the U.S. Supreme Court and down to local sessions courts were shut down or limited in the early days into the pandemic.

Now, some court proceedings are in-person but require the wearing of face masks; some also conduct them via video conference.

Care facilities operations

Long-term care facilities were among the most concerning issues early into the pandemic because of the rate at which many elderly people staying in those facilities were infected with COVID-19 and dying. In order to protect those in that most vulnerable population, officials locked down nursing home and care facilities.

For months, residents in the facilities were unable to see family or friends due to the lockdowns.

In late February 2021, the state lifted its visitation restrictions for the facilities as vaccine efforts continue. Elderly residents were among the first in the general population to be eligible for the vaccines.

Public events, concerts & performances

Public events as well as concerts and other live performances were also shut down, postponed or canceled early in the pandemic. Since then, events have been rescheduled or have switched to virtual only.

Flu season cases

The rate of reported flu cases has changed significantly, reports indicate.

At the end of 2019, the CDC had reported that flu deaths were on the rise with 2,100 fatalities reported in 2019-2020 season. Of those deaths within the 2019-2020 flu season, nearly 200 children died of the flu.

By early 2021, the CDC had reported only one pediatric flu death.

Some experts trying to determine the cause of the flu all but disappearing in the U.S. have pointed to preventative measures used to fight COVID-19 like masks, physical distancing and virtual education.

Others point to increased flu vaccinations and a decrease in world travel.

Working from home & quarantine life

Probably one of the most discussed topics apart from the virus itself was the widely-adapted-new-normal concept of working from home in order to mitigate the spread; or having to live a “quarantine life” if exposure had occurred.

Many employers had to quickly adapt by allowing employees to work from home via remote access. Streaming services also saw an uptick because of the large number of people remaining at home.

Now, the “new normal” is still evolving as the pandemic continues.


The Associated Press and Nexstar DC Bureau contributed to this story.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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