Coronavirus in Tennessee: Knox County Health Department reports 9th death, calls face mask divide ‘disheartening’


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported nearly 100 new cases of COVID-19 and the county’s ninth death from the novel coronavirus on Monday.

Health officials reported its first death from the coronavirus since April last week and two more deaths on Sunday.

Knox County reported 93 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and 22 recoveries. The total active case count is 495, and there are currently 30 probable cases.

Saturday, the Health Department reported 93 new casesSpikes of 53 and 50 cases were seen on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.

Of the 1,296 total cases seen in Knox County, 92 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. 

The total number of recoveries is now 792. Recovered cases refer to those who have been released from isolation after 10 days from their onset of symptoms, plus 72 hours of being symptom-free. Recovered does not mean necessarily the person had to be hospitalized.

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

Details on deaths released

The Health Department gave out details on the latest deaths in Knox County and cleared some confusion on its face mask mandate on Monday.

Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of KCHD, said the three deaths are a 77-year-old man, a 37-year-old woman and a 41-year-old man.

“I am deeply saddened to report that since Friday three additional Knox County residents have passed away from complications of COVID-19,” she said. “To all the families and friends who have lost loved ones, please know that our hearts and prayers of my entire team are with you.”

It is unclear if the recent local increase in deaths is a trend or not, Buchanan said, as much is still unknown about COVID-19. The differential in Knox County deaths compared to the rest of the state, nation and world won’t be known until after the time has been given to dig into the data which could be after the pandemic has passed.

“We won’t know until we see what happens, but it’s not unexpected with our case counts going up,” she said.

“I still think there’s still a lot more to learn about this virus. What we know for sure is it is droplet spread. … Science is changing, and we are learning more about this virus. We will have to see if more evidence comes out and tells us something different.”

Testing time gaps

With more people getting tested, the wait times for results have also increased making the positive case count more of a “look into the past” Buchanan says.

Gaps from contacting the virus to contact tracing close contacts of a positive case could take up to 10 days.

If you suspect you have come in contact with COVID-19 and want a test, KCHD recommends you wait 4 to 5 days to get a test so that the virus shows up during testing. The results then take roughly that same amount of time to get back from the state lab but could take longer.

The Knox County Health Department added contact tracing staff this week putting “all hands on deck” to keep the time between notifying positive cases until contacting them and their close contacts at a minimum.

Knox County numbers are updated daily on the Health Department’s data page and benchmarks that include regional data will be updated on Wednesdays going forward.

Presenting facts

The Knox County board of health enacted a face mask mandate on Wednesday that has caused a deep divide mostly along political lines. You can read the full mandate here. Buchanan clarified the measure Monday and asked for kindness from all sides of the issue.

“It is disheartening that these little things have become an unfortunate politicized symbol when they really are just a simple safety measure that helps protect our communities in the same vein as seat belts, life jackets, and speed limits,” she said of face masks.

“While it is frustrating when guidance changes, you want your medical community to follow the evidence when they learn more, it would be unacceptable if you learned new information and did nothing with it.”

Buchanan went on to say the use of face masks is to protect those around you and is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Tennessee Department of Health, the U.S. surgeon general, the American Medical Association, the American Hospitals Association, American Nurses Association, the National Institute for Health, Johns Hopkins University medical school and local hospitals.

“As we learned about the prevalence of presymptomatic or asymptomatic spread, and examined evidence that even a simple cloth-based covering could block droplets from reaching others, the recommendations changed,” she said. “The recommendation for everyone to wear cloth-based coverings was not based on a notion that it would protect the wearer. It was based on new evidence of how the disease spreads.”

Buchanan said Tennessee code 68-2-601 allows for the mandating of face masks and that has been further emphasized with Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order on Friday and others across the country.

She said enforcement will be based on education and the issuance of masks to those who do not have one.

The Knox County order mandating face masks is for most indoor public places where 6 feet of distancing cannot be kept. Exceptions have been made for state and federal buildings, schools, and houses of worship as those facilites do not fall under Knox County jurisdiction.

“The way we operate and the way move around in our community, you never know when you’re going to be closer than 6 feet to somebody,” Buchanan said. “We recommend really wearing a mask when your inside in a public place. If you can maintain 6 feet of distancing you don’t have to do that but then again, it is unpredictable when that 6 feet will get broken.”

If you have a complaint about a business not following guidelines you can call the city at 311 or the KCHD hotline at 865-215-5555.

“Whether you agree with the board’s decision or not, I encourage you to step back and take care of yourself,” Buchanan said. “Sometimes the intensity of social media, the news, and the trying situations of the day can be overwhelming. While we may not all agree on the best path forward, I think we share the same goal in the end. Please remember, we really are in this together.

“COVID-19 is real. It’s making people sick and causing people to die in our community. And it is not a partisan issue. It is an issue of our community’s health and well being. And, we’re working hard to protect our community and educate and inform our community.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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