KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported 15 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, bringing the total case number to 295.
Knox County reported 64 active cases on Monday, up from 49 on Sunday. The new cases marked a 5.36 percent growth in cases in Knox County.
The total number of recovered cases remained at 226, unchanged since Saturday. 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 two patients currently hospitalized due to COVID-19.
Of the 295 cases, 37 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness and five deaths.
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.
County increase comes from clusters
The increase of 15 positive COVID-19 cases is the result of four clusters that were identified last Thursday, according to KCHD Director Dr. Martha Buchanan.
The department said the clusters of positive cases are within large family units in the Hispanic community and staff have been in contact with people who might have been exposed as a result of the clusters.
Buchanan also said the Health Department has an interpreter working with its contact tracing staff in conducting interviews and at its testing sites.
Striking a balance
KCHD is working to strike a balance between too much and too little data when it comes to Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan benchmarks.
“I know people want to know more,” Buchanan said. “That is a natural human behavior.
“We understand that desire and our team is diligently working to provide the community with everything we can.”
Part of the reason data like transmission rates and 14-day case trends has been left out, compared to the Knox County Health Department’s counterparts in Davidson and Shelby counties, is because the local case counts are so few, Buchanan said. The smaller volume of data would not be enough to show an accurate account of the current situation in Knox County.
Other issues include Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and the ability to show the data in a readable way on the Knox County Health Department website.
“Our website is designed to provide information for the community and give them guidance on how we’re doing and really not designed to be epidemiology 101,” Buchanan said to the media.
“Our allegiance, just like yours, is to our community. We know that you want to provide the public with information that is useful and we want to help you do that.”
Additional data sets are being updated every week on the Health Department website each Friday.
When pressed about what number of cases would trigger a response to go backward in the reopening plan or to a return to a safer at home order, Buchanan said a number has not been set in stone. The Health Department is looking at a rolling mean of numbers instead and the benchmarks provided to determine if a return to previous orders is necessary.
Addressing data concerns
COVID-19 data transparency from the Knox County Health Department was called into question last week by a member of the media. A Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter was held out of the Friday press briefing, seemingly as a result of some hard-lined questions, by Knox County Communications Director Mike Donila.
Buchanan said the result was “less than ideal” but it was not up to her or her staff to hold the reporter out of the briefing.
“I still stand by the volume of information we are providing to the community, the frequency in which we have made ourselves available, and the work of my staff,” she said. “I think those in the media who have consistently worked with us over the years can attest to a commitment of availability and transparency.”
Buchanan said she welcomes the most difficult questions but acknowledged that some answers may take more time and may miss reporter’s deadlines.
Health Department plans this week
With a new week comes new plans on testing. 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. One neighborhood testing is planned for Thursday in Lonsdale but no details were available.
The state is focusing on testing this week in public housing. The Tennessee National Guard and KCHD will host an event this weekend but plans are still to be determined.
When asked about how things are going one week into the county reopening plan, Buchanan said things are going well, but it is still too early to tell if they county will see a surge of cases from lifting safer at home orders.
“I would like to see more people wearing masks,” she said. “Toward the end of the week I think we will see what our cases are going to do.”
No staff at the Health Department have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday and there is no shortage of supplies.