Coronavirus in Tennessee: Health Dept. stops issuing state masks; active cases in Knox County increase by 159% in a week

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported seven new COVID-19 cases on Monday, to bring the county’s case total to 410.

Knox County reported six new active cases on Monday for a total of 70, up from 64 on Sunday. 

One new recovered case was reported. The total number of recoveries is now 335. 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 no Knox County COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized. There have been five total deaths in Knox County from COVID-19.

Of the 410 cases, 43 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are 11 probable cases of COVID-19 listed on the county information page.

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

Active cases increase substantially

Active cases of COVID-19 in Knox County have increased more than 159% in a week. On May 25, the Health Department reported 27 active cases. Twenty-eight new cases of the novel coronavirus were identified over the weekend.

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness for KCHD, said the majority of the recent increase is from clusters. Menefee did not provide any details as to the makeup of the lastest cluster increases.

“The practice of finding these clusters and conducting case investigations is part of what we do as part of public health,” Menefee said. “We are continuing to respond efficiently with case investigations, monitoring and contact tracing, and that will result in an increase in cases a lot of times.

“But we also want to remind everybody that it is important to follow the five core actions. … These actions are not a replacement for one another. They are all critical and are effective when practiced together.”

The five core actions of the Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan are:

  • Practice social distancing,
  • Wear cloth face coverings when in public and social distancing can’t be achieved,
  • Wash your hands properly and often,
  • Clean surfaces regularly, and
  • Stay home when sick.

“We know that everybody wants to return to life as we knew it,” Menefee said. “We do, too. But right now, COVID-19 is still very much a part of this community, and to keep moving forward in a safe way, we all must follow the five core actions.”

Health Department stops distribution of state masks

The Knox County Health Department is halting the distribution of the masks given to them by the state.

Questions have been raised about the masks’ safety after a news report released Friday found the antimicrobial used on the masks is also registered as a pesticide.

“We are no longer distributing the face coverings until more information is learned about the antimicrobial that is used on the mask and have asked our partners to do the same,” Menefee said.

The Health Department has not given a mask out since Friday and is deferring questions about the masks to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. The state announced May 6 that each county health department would receive a portion of the 5 million masks it had bought to distribute for free.

Menefee said, in following with state guidelines, it is up to each individual to decide if they want to continue to wear the state-issued masks but masks should still be worn when social distancing is not possible. The Health Department offers guidance on masks on its website and a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask-making advice.

On May 22, KCHD said it had distributed 11,000 of the masks at its main office on Dameron Avenue and provided more than 100,000 to community partners. The Health Department said it has given out 143,254 masks total.

Informing the Latino community

The Health Department is also working with county Latino community leaders to get information out about the virus. Menefee said the department created a focus group to get its message out.

“We’re doing videos in Spanish and making sure that … we have interpreters available when we’re interviewing cases and doing contact tracing,” Menefee said.

“We’re also talking with churches in the areas to help get messaging out as well. So doing everything we can to try to make sure that the same messages, those five core actions and the importance of it hearing those can get to our Latino community as well. We want to make sure we’re doing that in every way we can.”

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

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