KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported two new cases Wednesday in its latest update on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The total number of recovered cases rose to 136. 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 172 cases, 21 have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. This figure does not reflect the number of patients currently hospitalized in the county.
In Knox County, 4,422 total COVID-19 tests have now been conducted.
The Knox County Health Department updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. on covid.knoxcountytn.gov.
Support for phased reopening plan
Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said at Wednesday’s media briefing that she supports a phased reopening of the economy.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs unveiled his proposal for a strategic, phased reopening on Tuesday. Jacobs, along with the mayors of Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties, were asked to share their ideas for reopening with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.
“We all want to reopen the economy,” Buchanan said. “We will make that decision together.
“The plan is thoughtful. We are convening a local team to start local planning. Across our state, Nashville and Memphis look way different than the rest of us do. Planning to reopen in those areas is going to look very different.”
Buchanan said the key to knowing how and when to open the economy, as well as to what extent, will be “knowing the burden of the disease.” That includes seeing a decline on the curve of total and active cases.
“Knowing the burden of disease is going to be really important in helping us understand as we open do we need to back off or did we go too fast,” she said.
Finding that burden will require more health care providers to offer coronavirus testing, increased access to more specimen collectors and expansion of lab analysis capacity.
Regardless of when the reopening happens, Buchanan said practicing basic social distancing guidelines, like staying home when sick and washing your hands, will need to continue for some time.
“We will have to have things back to normal before a vaccine is available,” she said. “An approved vaccine is months if not a year away.”
Testing, data concerns
A word of caution was issued to those drawing conclusions from the “hot spot” data given out by the health department.
“It is not designed to help you determine risk,” Buchanan said of the ZIP code map. “Regardless of where you live, we are all susceptible to COVID-19.
“There’s no evidence to support that any one place is any risker than the other place in our county.”
She also said that all cases of COVID-19 are required to be reported to the state by those conducting the tests and there are no non-lab confirmed cases that have been counted in the Tennessee Department of Health numbers.
Deaths from the virus however can be hard to count completely.
According to Buchanan, most of the deaths from COVID-19 are from complications from the virus, much like flu deaths not being attributed to the underlying disease. The Knox County medical examiner is testing the deceased who could have died from COVID-19 but were not a known positive case.
Buchanan thanked her staff of epidemiologists for their efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Epidemiologists with the health department are responsible for following up with positive cases for the virus and using contact tracing to determine spread risks.
“If you test positive for COVID-19, somebody on my staff is going to reach out to you,” Buchanan said. “We reach out to the people who have around a confirmed case for the most often, for the most time. Those are the people that are at the highest risk of getting COVID-19 from that person.”
Close contacts are asked to stay home for 14 days and report if they show symptoms. By many in Knox County following the guidelines given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Buchanan said that the number of close contacts per positive case has slowed.
“We are only having four or five close contacts for each of our confirmed cases,” she said. “That does help us tell that people are following the stay-at-home order.
“We all have to do our part to protect not just ourselves and our family but our entire community, and we appreciate everybody doing that even though we know it is hard to do.”