Coronavirus in Tennessee: 29 active Knox County cases; some Health Department employees to be furloughed

Coronavirus

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – While the total number of confirmed cases in Knox County eclipsed 200 on Thursday, the number of active cases remained unchanged.

There are 29 active cases in the county as of April 23, unchanged from Wednesday. The total number of cases grew to 206 from 199.

Case breakdown by age range
Source: Knox County Health Dept.

The total number of recovered cases rose to 173 from 166. 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.

Of the 206 cases, 31 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. This figure does not reflect the number of patients currently hospitalized in the county. Seven cases currently require hospitalization.

Thursday marks the first time Knox County Health Dept. has included a “Current hospitalizations” a statistic. The number includes Knox County residents at any hospital.

The number of deaths in Knox County from coronavirus remains at four.

The Knox County Health Department updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. on covid.knoxcountytn.gov.

Health Department joining in county furloughs

Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said some of her employees will be furloughed as part of Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ plan to cut costs in anticipation of lost tax revenue associated with the shutting down of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buchanan said it was a difficult decision to have about 30 staff members take furlough but KCHD should be able to handle the workload.

“In being fiscally responsible, we felt like it was appropriate to participate,” she said. “At this time, given our current case count, current situation and our current rate of increase, we have the staff available to help manage case investigations and contact tracing.”

Buchanan said about 100 of her 260 staff members are working daily on the COVID-19 pandemic. They also have the ability to call back staff or use furloughed county employees in other departments should the need arise.

Weekend testings site details

Knox County Health Department also released details about its free and open testing event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 25, at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum parking garage.

KCHD staff will be joined by support staff from the Tennessee National Guard and use supplies given by the Tennessee Department of Health to conduct the drive-thru and walk-up testing event. Six hundred people will be able to be tested.

The event will take place in the garage as inclement weather is predicted for Saturday. The drive-thru and walk-up testing will be separate from one another and staff will be on hand to direct people. Knoxville Area Transit will be offering service to those who need it.

Buchanan said the service is needed because testing has been limited in the 37915 ZIP code where the Civic Coliseum is located.

“When we looked at our data, we hadn’t tested anyone from that ZIP code,” she said.

The test is a nasal swab, and no appointment will be required. Those who get a test are asked to self isolate until their results come back. Results come back usually within three to five days.

Reopening guidelines must be followed

While details to Gov. Bill Lee’s reopening plan set to being Monday have not been released, Buchanan stressed the public and businesses would have to follow the guidelines to avoid a setback and a return to stay at home orders.

“When businesses reopen we really need to follow guidelines,” she said. “If we don’t want to go back to where we are now, people are really going to have to follow the guidelines.”

Buchanan said on top of businesses following social distancing guidelines and cleaning regularly, people will still have to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines already in place for the foreseeable future. That includes wearing face masks when appropriate, maintaining 6 feet of distance and washing hands frequently.

Buchanan said as long as these guidelines and those yet to be given by the state and county are followed, the risk of spreading COVID-19 will be minimized.

“We never had a big peak. We’ve had a slow increase in the number of cases. We haven’t had any big shift in that. … Hopefully, we won’t have a peak.”

Buchanan said that closing businesses was never a long-term solution but one that isolated cases from the public to mitigate spreading the coronavirus.

“When you look at other countries that have had to do these things related to HIV or ebola, getting those people who might make other people sick out of the general population is really how you stop that chain of transmission and that is what my team and the community are working to do.”

When asked about what it would take to return to a stay at home order, Buchanan said the Health Department is using syndromic surveillance similar to what it uses during flu season.

The Health Department is collecting data on hospitalizations, deaths, case counts and doctor visits and if a “sustained increase” is seen, a decision will then be made on if a return to a stay at home order is needed.

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