KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported three new cases on Friday, bringing the total case number to 272.
Knox County reported 55 active cases on Friday, up from 52 on Thursday.
The total number of recovered cases remained at 212. 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.
Of the 272 cases, 36 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.
The department holds a daily press briefing at 12:30 p.m. that can be viewed in this web story or on the Knox County Youtube channel.
Surgery date goals set
Dr. Keith Gray, Chief Medical Officer for the University of Tennessee Medical Center, joined KCHD Director Dr. Martha Buchanan on Friday to speak about what went into the reopening of hospitals in the county for outpatient surgeries and what plans are going forward.
Gray announced that surgeries, like other phases of the Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan will begin slowly, elective outpatient and one-night stay surgeries will be done through May 15. On May 18, low-risk inpatient surgeries will resume. All surgeries will begin May 25. These dates are subject to change.
“We’re trying to focus our early offering to just that population of patients,” Gray said. “That allows for a gradual increase for volume on our campus. It keeps our patients safe, keeps our team members safe, and doesn’t over populate our hospital prior to us knowing what the trend of disease will be in our community.”
Gray said the dates are guidelines and may be adapted by each hospital system since many operate in multiple counties surrounding Knox County and have varied populations.
Visitors to hospitals seeking treatment for any ailment should wear a mask and be expected to be screened for COVID-19 before entering. Changes to the visitation policy will be made at a later date.
The combined hospital systems in Knox County chose to stop elective surgeries out of precaution and to evaluate the potential need should a surge in COVID-19 cases occur. That surge did not come as social distancing guidelines and safer at home orders limited the spread.
Decision making process for reopening
Gray said the quick pivot from preparing for the worse of what could happen with the COVID-19 outbreak in East Tennessee to now reopening hospitals for outpatient procedures depended on the community following guidelines and the data showing downward trends.
Throughout the pandemic, Gray said the hospitals have been watching the Vanderbilt University model; “R naught,” or basic reproduction value; and other metrics in deciding to reopen surgery rooms. The basic reproduction value is a mathematical term for the average number of people who will contract a contagious disease from one person with that disease.
The basic reproduction value for COVID-19, spread by airborne droplets, is believed to be between 1.4 and 3.9. Measles is among the highest diseases in the basic reproduction value. One person with the measles may affect 12 to 18 others.
Based on the metrics, Gray said he was confident in moving forward with reopening plans.
“It showed that if anyone in Tennessee was ready to reopen from a health care standpoint, and maybe even from other standpoints, we were,” he said.
If numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 do rise, Gray said factors like testing capacity, burden of disease, personal protective equipment availability, blood bank capacity and need to move to surge capacity will determine if elective surgeries can continue.
“The new normal may not look like the old normal,” Gray said. “Whatever the road ahead looks like, I think we are prepared. I think we have established a foundation of communication that will serve us well whatever happens in this community. The road ahead, from my standpoint is filled with communication, transparency and trust and I hope that you will hold us accountable for that as we move forward.”
Positives out of the pandemic
There have been some positive developments out of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Communication among area hospitals has been a bright spot, Gray said.
“After having been on many Zoom calls and many telephone calls over the last six weeks, I am not reluctant to say that we have been among the leaders in collaboration throughout the state and maybe in the nation,” he said.
Gray also said one change will be sticking around locally after the outbreak subsides.
“Telehealth was a gap in the East Tennessee community prior to COVID,” he said. “People were doing it, but it wasn’t used widely used among health care systems in our community. Now telehealth is a part of our daily operation that will never go backwards. That is a benefit to the provider and to the patients that we serve.”
Knox County testing changes for next week
Buchanan said changes to COVID-19 testing availability will begin Monday. Drive-thru testing will be available Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Department of Public Works site, 1201 Wray St., by appointment only to limit wait times. Anyone can get a test and there is no charge.
To schedule a test time you can call the KCHD Public Information Line at 865-215-5555. The Public Information Line will be closed Sunday, May 10. If you have COVID-19 questions on Sunday, you are asked to call the Tennessee Department of Health’s Public Information Line, 877-857-2945, that is available from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. EDT, seven days a week.
The Health Department will be focusing on smaller neighborhood testing events on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since March 4 the department has conducted 2,552 and 43 people have tested positive for COVID-19 from those tests.
Buchanan also said “indoor leisure” spots, like bowling alleys and mini-golf, will not be addressed until the county reaches the second phase of its reopening plan.