Coronavirus in Tennessee: Health Department responds to backlash over wearing masks; 43 active cases, 257 total COVID-19 cases in Knox County

Coronavirus

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported five new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total case number to 257.

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

Knox County reported 43 active cases on Wednesday, up from 38 on Tuesday.

The total number of recovered cases remained at 209 for the second straight day. 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 three patients currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, up one from Tuesday.

Of the 257 cases, 35 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. 

The Knox County Health Department updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. Visit covid.knoxcountytn.gov for more information.

New data set given

KCHD gave a new set of data for the first time on Wednesday. Probable cases of disease have been a standard data set for other outbreaks of disease and viruses in the past but a new definition given this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed for the health department to define probable COVID-19 cases.

A probable case is defined as “individuals that have the symptoms of COVID-19 and based on the clinical judgement of provider or fact they have been exposed to positive case,” according to Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department.

There are currently two probable cases of COVID-19 in Knox County.

Limited supply of masks given to KCHD

According to Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday, the Tennessee Unified-Command group made up of members of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and the state departments of Health and Military were able to obtain masks to distribute across the state.

The Knox County Health Department received a shipment of the masks and is giving them out to those who need them on a first-come, first-served basis. The department has about 19,000 masks to give; they may get more in the future.

“There are lots of opportunities to get masks throughout our community,” Buchanan said. “We can’t be the only source of masks in our community.

“We’re working with community partners to reach out to at-risk groups and people who might not be able to get a mask.”

If you would like a mask you can visit the KCHD main office, 140 Dameron Ave., during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The black knit masks will be given out one per person and you must be present to receive one. You do not have to be tested to receive a mask.

If you cannot make it to the Health Department, the CDC has instructions on how to make a mask.

“Face coverings don’t have to be anything special,” Buchanan said. “A bandana works.”

Mask backlash

The backlash over the mask recommendations in the county reopening plan isn’t going unnoticed by health department. Buchanan said people are entitled to their opinions, but those who ignore the recommendation risk a relapse in the county’s phased reopening plan.

“People frequently disagree with health recommendations,” she said. “We know these recommendations are based on science and data so we stand by these recommendations.

“People who are unhappy that we are not moving forward fast enough in reopening need to abide by the guidelines so that we can continue to move forward and not have to move backward which is really going to make people unhappy.”

When asked if she can require people to wear masks, Buchanan said, for the most part, people are following the guidelines. However, as a health officer, she has legal powers to take measures that would stop the spread of disease at specific locations or by specific persons in Knox County.

“There are lots of government and local regulations like speed limits on county roads that tell people how to be safe and how to protect others and protect themselves just like face coverings,” Buchanan said.

Small group recreation outside Knox County

Gov. Lee is planning to release guidelines for small group recreational and tourist businesses today with a plan to reopen the facilities this weekend.

Buchanan said Knox County residents should take steps to protect themselves if they choose to do partake in activities, like mini-golf and bowling, in other counties.

“If people choose to travel outside of Knox County, that is their choice,” she said. “I would encourage them to maintain social distancing, wear a face covering, wash their hands, and then afterwards, really pay attention if they feel ill in the next 14 days.”

A decision to open similar businesses in Knox County has not been made yet.

“We just started phase one,” Buchanan said. “Our phases are based on the situation in the county. … We won’t know anything about the impact on case counts for days to come.”

Where are we in the COVID-19 marathon?

One of the first analogies used by the Health Department to the COVID-19 pandemic was a marathon. Buchanan was asked Wednesday where the county was in relation to the 26.22-mile race.

“We haven’t reached the 13th mile yet because we haven’t started the downhill part,” she said. “We do anticipate a little bump up in a couple of week when people start becoming ill after reopening. What we hope to happen is that there’s an increase but a continued flattening, so that it goes up but stays steady.”

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