KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported four new COVID-19 cases on Friday, to bring the county’s total to 327.
Knox County reported 27 active cases on Friday, down from 35 active cases on Thursday.
The total number of recovered cases grew to 295 from 283. Recovered cases refer to those who have been released from isolation after seven days from their onset of symptoms, plus 72 hours of being symptom-free. Recovered does not mean necessarily the person had to be hospitalized.
There are two Knox County patients currently hospitalized due to COVID-19.
Of the 327 cases, 38 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness and five deaths. There are six probable cases of COVID-19 listed on the county information page.
The Knox County Health Department updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. Visit covid.knoxcountytn.gov for more information.
Phase 2 guidelines announced
The Health Department unveiled its guidelines for the second phase of the Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan on Friday. The plan is set to take effect Tuesday.
Expanding gathering restrictions to 50 people, requiring a registration system at food service businesses when possible, reopening indoor leisure services and expanding the distance between patrons at gyms where masks aren’t being used are some of the changes in the second phase.
“Especially in phase 2, We took the approach of how can we help businesses open safely,” Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said. “We know that wearing a face covering protects other people. So if both people are wearing a face covering, even if you’re close together, your risk is very low (to contract the virus).
“It is not primarily (contracted) through touching things. It is really more about those droplets that are coming out (of your mouth) and that close proximity to other people and those droplets being able to get into your mouth or nose, your eyes.”
Community, business input for phase 2
Input from businesses and the community, as well as the downward trend of COVID-19, were taken into consideration when forming the phase 2 guidelines released Friday.
Businesses were seeking clarity in business classification and seeking help in regards to patrons not respecting employees, employee safety, and acquiring supplies like masks and thermometers. Buchanan said the responses were greatly appreciated.
While phase 2 is set to begin Tuesday, she said opening is ultimately up to individual businesses.
“Nobody knows your business better than you do,” Buchanan said. “We are counting on businesses to make the decision to reopen based on the safety of patrons and employees.”
Businesses, owners, employees or customers with questions about the plan can call 311 to get more information.
Importance of 5 core principles
Both Buchanan and Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness for KCHD, both stressed the success of phase 2 and the eventual move to phase 3 is dependant on the five core principles of the reopening plan.
The principles are:
- Practice social distancing,
- Wearing cloth face coverings when in public and social distancing can’t be achieved,
- Wash your hands properly and often,
- Clean surfaces regularly, and
- Stay home when sick.
About 25% of the returned community surveys from Knox County residents to the Health Department said they are not wearing masks nor are they avoiding gatherings of 10 or more.
“We think it is even more important now, the more people are out and about, that we do follow those guidelines,” Menefee said. “We will be watching it closely. If the data changes, we will get together and make recommendations again here and to our local officials about moving forward and what it looks like.”
Buchanan said if someone sees a business not abiding by the guidelines or has concerns that social distancing guidelines are not being followed they have two options: they an report it by calling the Health Department at 865-215-5555, or 311; or they can leave the establishment.
“If the business is abiding by the guidelines … and if your abiding by the guidelines, we believe that you can safely patronize that business keeping yourself safe and protecting the employees as well,” she said.
Benchmarks stay ‘green’ after input
The Health Department also released its weekly benchmark update. The benchmarks help determine how the reopening plan is progressing. New trend lines were added to better show the progress on bar graphs as well.
Menefee said all benchmarks are “green” meaning all criteria are being met.
“For the majority of our benchmarks what we want to see is no three-day statistical significant shifts within a 14-day time period,” she said referring to the rolling mean as it applies to the 14-day incubation period of COVID-19.
The fourth benchmark, health care system capabilities remaining within current and forecasted surge capacity, did see an uptick in intensive care unit beds being used by COVID-19 patients and a decrease of their availability. A similar instance was seen last week.
The number of ICU beds being used by COVID-19 patients has since decreased and Menefee said the change in bed availability was normal and predicted. The ICU bed decrease is a result of Knox County hospitals offering elective surgeries again. The decision to remain “green” was made after discussions with hospital leaders and Health Department staff.
With Memorial Day weekend beginning, Buchanan said holiday celebrations are OK as long as the guidelines are taken into consideration and precautions are taken.
“I am not concerned as long as people follow the guidelines,” she said. “Even though it sounds like a really great idea to bring grandma and grandpa out for the picnic, you might want to just think about not doing that.
“It’s not fun, but it really protects their health. So be thoughtful in your celebrations, and follow the guidelines.”
Questions about the Knoxville-Knox County Task Force meetings not being open or recorded in accordance with the Tennessee Open Meeting Act were raised again Friday. Buchanan said the Knox County Law Office is working to make any documentation available but minutes were not taken as the task force is an advisory group and meetings were in an open discussion setting. No voting is done by the task force.
The Knox County Health Department has distributed more than 11,000 masks at its main location in North Knoxville. They have also provided more than 100,000 to community partners, including Knox County Schools. The masks were given to them by the state.