Coronavirus in Tennessee: Active Knox County cases drop below 100

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported nearly 30 new recovered COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total number of active cases down under 100.

Knox County reported 92 active cases on Friday, down from 112 reported on Thursday. The county surpassed 100 total active cases for the first time on Wednesday.

The total number of recovered cases grew by 28. The total number of recovered cases now stands at 363. Knox County hadn’t reported a new recovered case since Monday.

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 is one Knox County COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, down from two on Thursday. There have been five total deaths in Knox County from COVID-19.

Of the 460 cases, 44 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.

What the increase in cases means

As more people return to work and closer-to-normal pre-COVID-19 activities Knox County saw its active cases of the novel coronavirus reach triple digits this week. Though active cases dipped Friday, the reason for the increase is a complicated one.

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness for the Health Department, said more opportunity for testing, more people out and clusters could all be contributing to the increase in Knox County cases.

Menefee said the Health Department’s data on the number of tests given out in Knox County is not a firm number as many private clinics and hospitals are offering tests. However, regardless of how many are tested, the important information is that cases are on the rise and following the five core actions is still important.

“We want to encourage people to see … that the number of cases is increasing,” Menefee said. “Wheather testing is increasing or not, we are still getting more cases in the community and we need to take that seriously. It’s still there. People still need to follow all the same guidelines we recommend to prevent the spread of disease.”

New cases still in the ‘red’

The increase in new cases this week left the first of the five Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan benchmarks at a red light for the second straight week.

To more visually represent how the benchmarks are being attained, a traffic light is being utilized by the Health Department to depict the status of each benchmark.

 Red signifies the trends are not moving towards benchmark attainment and may indicate mid-phase adjustments need to be made.

 Yellow signifies the trends are moving towards/away from reaching benchmark attainment. Yellow indicates caution.

 Green signifies that the benchmark is currently met.

“What we want to see is the new cases becoming more stable and leveling off,” Menefee said. “This will potentially allow us to ease back into yellow or green traffic light.”

The county is scheduled to move into Phase 3 of the reopening plan next week but that is still dependent on the benchmarks. Menefee said the reopening task force is looking at data this week and more information on where Knox County will go in its reopening process will be given next week.

Increase in cases among youth

A large number of new cases this week are youth. Menefee said the age 11-20 demographic saw an increase of 15 new cases. She noted the problem of following social distancing guidelines as part of the issue.

Menefee said it is best to limit social interactions.

“When your in social groups it’s really hard to stay 6 feet apart but we need you to do that,” she said. “Either they can have consequences or their loved ones can or their neighbors.”

Modifying contact-tracing staff benchmark

The Health Department is looking at further adding to its contact tracing staff and how it evaluates the benchmark. KCHD added four staff to its contact tracing team last week and is planning on adding more, including interpreters.

When the first reopening plans were released the department set the goal of contacting all positive cases within 24 hours and all close contacts of positive cases within 48 hours. Menefee said the staff has met that mark so far but with additional cases comes the need for increased contact tracing.

“Before the community reopened, each case only had about three close contacts,” Menefee said. “That’s because … cases were staying home and maybe only running a few essential errands.

“Now as the community reopens, cases may have three to 15 or even more close contacts. Our team is responsible for reaching out to every close contact and providing daily check-ins to determine if they develop symptoms.”

Menefee said last weekend the 35-member contact tracing staff was checking in on 700 close contacts a day.

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

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