Coronavirus in Tennessee: Knox County Health Department explains reasoning behind bar closures, reports 12th death in 5 days

Coronavirus

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported 116 new coronavirus cases and one new death on Monday.

The Health Department reported 79 new active cases, 36 new recoveries and one new death.

There are now 2,256 active COVID-19 cases in Knox County.

Knox County has now reported 12 new deaths in the last five days. Of the 39 deaths in the county, 34 have occurred since the beginning of July.

Of the 4,111 total confirmed cases reported in Knox County since the pandemic began, 196 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are 31 Knox County patients currently hospitalized.

The total number of recoveries is 1,947. Recovered cases refer to those who have been released from isolation after 10 days from their onset of symptoms, plus 24 hours of being symptom-free. Recovered does not mean necessarily the person had to be hospitalized.

Knox County currently lists 131 probable cases of COVID-19 on the county website.

Beginning Wednesday, testing will now be done at the Jacobs Building at Chilhowee Park from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Testing will no longer take place at the Knox County Engineering & Public Works building.

The Knox County Health Department updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. Visit covid.knoxcountytn.gov for more information. Press briefings by Knox County Health Department are normally held at 12:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Cluster watch

The Knox County Health Department’s contact tracing team is finding most of the COVID-19-positive cases in Knox County are contracting the virus when their guard is down.

According to Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness at KCHD, cases are reporting they are attending friends and family gatherings like barbecues and birthday parties, as well as not following the five core actions around their close co-workers.

“We know it might be awkward and uncomfortable to ask loved ones to wear a mask or stand six feet away but if that expectation is set from the get-go, it’s a little bit easier,” Menefee suggested.

The Health Department is beginning a new initiative at its media briefings offering advice on social gatherings while also social distancing. Menefee said socially-distanced picnics are a good way to socialize and stay safe.

“This is a great way to socialize while not putting yourself or others at risk,” she said. “We encourage folks who want to gather with friends and family to do so in a safe and thoughtful way like this. Maintain at least 6 feet of distance and wear a mask if that can’t be done.”

Bar closure reasoning

The Knox County Board of Health’s regulation closing bars took effect Monday. Menefee said while no bars are showing up as a single converging cluster point, the move was made with input from the White House coronavirus taskforce and Dr. Deborah Birx.

“We’ve had cases associated with a lot of businesses including restaurants and bars,” Menefee said, “but typically that is not a place where … the public has been impacted. Typically it would be either employees … and we have had people provide us (contact information); say they have been to a restaurant or a bar or any myriad of places but not any clusters identified around those.”

Menefee said the recent spike in younger cases and general behavior in bars also lead to the closure.

“It’s basically looking at the risk in those situations,” she said. “It’s hard to wear a mask when your drinking in close proximity to people and all the things that go along with that.”

While bars, defined as any establishment permitted to offer alcoholic beverages for on- or off-premises consumption and which generates 50% or more of its revenue through the sale of such alcoholic beverages, are prohibited from in-house sales by the resolution, the venues can still provide in-house delivery, third-party delivery, walk-up, drive-up, drive-thru, curbside pick–up and carry-out service.

Under the board of health resolution, owners and operators could lose their alcohol license and are subject to penalties included in Tennessee Code § 68-2-609. The state code states violators could be hit with a Class C misdemeanor penalty, which includes up to a 30 day stay in jail and/or a $50 fine.

Menefee said enforcement will never be the first option for violators. KCHD’s Environmental Health Division and Knoxville code enforcement staff will first offer information and education for offenders. This is the normal process for any KCHD violation.

Complaints can be sent to the KCHD Public Information Line at 865-215-5555 or by calling 311.

Death details

Menefee on Monday also gave out details on Knox County’s latest deaths. Monday’s death was a 69-year-old man. Saturday’s deaths were men, one 66, the other 51. The three reported deaths on Sunday were women, aged 81 and 78, and a 55-year-old man. No other information about them was given.

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

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