Coronavirus in Tennessee: Knox County Health Dept. announces 10th death, region hospitals vigilant as cases continue to rise

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The number of Knox County patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 nearly doubled on Wednesday, according to the Knox County Health Department.

The Health Department reported 34 patients are currently hospitalized in Knox County due to COVID-19, up from 19 current hospitalizations reported on Tuesday.

The 10th death from COVID-19 in the county was reported on Wednesday. The Health Department identified the deceased only as an 81-year-old man. Five of the 10 deaths from COVID-19 in Knox County have been reported in the last week.

Of the 10 deaths from COVID-19 in Knox County, six were 75 or older, two were between 45-64 and two were between 18-44.

Knox County reported 54 new cases. There are now 616 active COVID-19 cases in the county.

Of the 1,420 total cases seen in Knox County, 101 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. 

Knox County lists 30 probable cases of COVID-19 currently on the county website.

No new recovered cases were reported so the total number of recoveries remains at 764. 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 covid.knoxcountytn.gov for more information.

Death benchmark gets red light,
hospital capabilities changed to yellow

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness at the Knox County Health Department, and Dr. Keith Gray, chief medical officer at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and representative of the combined regional hospitals in the 11-county region surrounding Knox County, met with the media Wednesday and provided an update to Knox County and the region’s benchmarks.

For the first time since their implementation by the Health Department benchmarks No. 4 and 5 were moved to red and yellow, respectively.

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

 Red signifies the trends are not moving towards benchmark attainment and may indicate 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.

Benchmark No. 5, sustained or decreased COVID-19 related death rate for identified positive or probable cases, was moved to red. Knox County has had five deaths from the novel coronavirus in the last week, doubling the number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Benchmark No. 4, health care system capabilities remain within current and forecasted surge capacity, was changed to yellow.

Region hospital ICU beds, ventilators see ‘statistically significant’ increase in use

Gray gave a blunt update showing an increased use of hospital beds, intensive care unit beds and ventilators among the 11-county regional hospitals.

Since last speaking at the KCHD briefing on June 10, Gray said the region’s test positivity rate has nearly doubled from 2.1% to 3.9%.

“Since June 23 … we’ve seen a 106-percent increase (regionally) in the number of people hospitalized,” Gray said. “We’ve seen a 100-percent increase in the number of patients hospitalized in the ICU, and we’ve seen a 155-percent increase in the number of patients ventilated.

“Fifty-six percent of the people that are hospitalized are in the ICU in our region, compared to about a third statewide. And of those patients that are in the ICU 64 percent are ventilated.”

The numbers regionally are lower compared to the rest of the state. Tennessee’s test positivity rate is currently 6.1%, up from 5.6% a month ago.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of hospitalizations with an increase of 60 percent, from two weeks ago, in the number of hospitalizations, statewide; 30.31 percent in the number of ICU, or critically ill patients that have been hospitalized; and a 22 percent increase in the number of ventilated patients.

“Of the number of hospitalized patients, 36 percent of those are critically ill, or in the ICU, and of those ICU bound patients … 38 percent of those are ventilated.”

The coronavirus case increases are causing hospitals regionally to relook at their surge capacities with hospitals at or near pre-COVID operations. Gray said stopping or pausing elective surgeries is not really an option hospitals want to explore again.

“We know from last time that when we delayed care for some of our patients, that disease was exacerbated and some of those patients presented with disease that was significantly worse than it was prior to the covert shutdown,” he said.

Gray said he wanted to convey a tone of vigilance even as daily case counts within Knox County are increasing by more than 50, something he never thought would be seen.

“Our situation is very different and much more urgent than it was when I was here one month ago,” he said. “We all hope that we reach a new and manageable plateau, but we have no idea where that is, or if it’s on the horizon.

“From my standpoint, I speak only for myself now — not the health systems — this is not a political issue. This is a public safety issue. This is an opportunity for you to link arms with the health systems to help slow the spread of disease in our community.

“Continuing at the same train of disease of new cases in our community has the potential to overwhelm our health systems, but with your partnerships, we can slow that spread and continue to offer care for all the healthcare needs of our community.”

UT Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Keith Gray

Knox County Health Department finalizing $7.1M state grant

Some good news may be coming for the Knox County Health Department. Menefee said the Tennessee Department of Health has made a verbal agreement with KCHD for a $7.1 million grant. The funding is on the Knox County Commission’s agenda and still needs a physical contract written up and approved.

The grant would be the first funding received by KCHD from TDOH or the federal government since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to Menefee.

“Over the past few weeks, we have mentioned several times that our team is still adequately managing the COVID-19 response, and that is still true,” she said. “But to do that, we’ve remained in our continuity of operations plan and have limited or suspended normal services so staff can work on the response.”

The complete funding plan has not been finalized but Menefee said the Health Department hopes to use the funds to be used for contact tracing, testing teams and other response areas.

“Our team is working nearly around-the-clock to manage and respond to the pandemic in our community and has been for months,” Menefee said. “This funding will provide our team members some relief, while also allowing them the opportunity and attention or to give some attention to critical public health services that have been modified or reduced since the pandemic began.”

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

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