Coronavirus in Tennessee: Knox County Health Dept., area hospitals offer cautious optimism with latest numbers

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported 131 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths on Wednesday, marking the first time in eight days the county reported no new fatalities.

The 131 new cases are a 3.15% increase in the total cases from Tuesday. Knox County reported 111 new active cases and 32 new recoveries.

There are now 2,197 active COVID-19 cases in Knox County.

Knox County had reported 14 deaths in the past seven days. The last time Knox County reported a day with no new deaths was Tuesday, July 28.

Of the 4,296 total confirmed cases reported in Knox County since the pandemic began, 202 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are 35 Knox County patients currently hospitalized.

The total number of recoveries is 2,203. 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 Health Department lists 144 probable cases of COVID-19 on the county website.

Starting Wednesday, testing is being done from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Jacobs Building in Chilhowee Park. Testing will no longer take place at the Knox County Engineering & Public Works building or the Health Department’s main office.

There will be no testing at the Jacobs Building on Monday, Aug. 10. The building has been reserved by a scheduled event.

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.

The Knox County Board of Health will convene at 5 p.m. Wednesday for its weekly meeting.

Cautious improvement

The Knox County Health Department and Dr. Keith Gray, chief medical officer and COVID-19 spokesman for UT Medical Center and the surrounding counties’ hospital systems, were cautiously optimistic Wednesday in their release of local weekly and monthly benchmarks.

KCHD gave two “green” lights, one “yellow” light and two “red” lights in its weekly breakdown.

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.

The breakdown:

  • Benchmark No. 1: Sustained reduction or stability in new cases for 14 days. RED
  • Benchmark No. 2 Community-wide sustained and increased diagnostic testing with consistent or decreased test result reporting turnaround time. GREEN
  • Benchmark No. 3 Sustained or increased public health capability. GREEN
  • Benchmark No. 4 Health care system capabilities remain within current and forecasted surge capacity. YELLOW
  • Benchmark No. 5 Sustained or decreased COVID-19 related death rate for identified positive or probable cases. RED

“The lower volume of new case counts we have seen over the past few days is encouraging,” Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness at KCHD, said. “That said, we know there could be the possibility that other factors are at play regarding delays that could be contributing to this number, but we are not aware of any specific numbers at this time. … We hope to see this lower volume of new cases turn into a downward trend but in order for this to happen, everyone needs to follow the five core actions everywhere you go.”

Gray echoed Menefee’s hope and caution.

“We’ve seen a positive improvement over the last 10 days in all of our trends, new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths,” he said. “However, we cannot drop our guard we should remain vigilant, we should continue to practice the five core measures that the Knox County Health Department has espoused for the entire COVID pandemic. …”

Monthly numbers

In Gray’s monthly update of state and local numbers, he noted a slight flattening across the board for the state.

The percent of positive tests among all tested has fallen from 7.2% to 6.1% and the death rate has fallen slightly from 1.2% to 1%.

“Over the last two weeks, the percent hospitalized, the percent in the ICU, and the percent of positive folks that have been ventilated, those curves has been flattening,” Gray said.

Gray said hospitalizations in the 11-county Tennessee Hospital Association region that includes Knox County saw a peek of 192 hospitalizations two weeks ago. Hospitalizations as of yesterday have fallen to around 150, 40% of which are in the intensive care unit. Two-thirds of the ICU patients are on ventilators, Gray said.

The region’s average daily new case count is about 300, including 100 in Knox County, and the death rate is 0.7%.

“Hospital systems, I want to reiterate, they are safe places to be for COVID and non-COVID issues. We are not overrun with COVID patients.”

UT Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Keith Gray

Gray and Menefee both cautioned KCHD’s and the hospital systems’ numbers may be different as the groups are gathering the data at different times and from different size regions. Gray said UT Medical Center’s reach ultimately stretches out over a 21-county area.

Convalescent plasma needed

The region needs convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. The plasma from recovered patients has antibodies that can help mitigate or limit the symptoms associated with newly infected coronavirus patients.

Gray said the plasma with the antiviral medication remdesivir is being used to treat the virus.

COVID-19 patients that have been virus-free for 28 days can donate at any Medic Regional Blood Center. You can set up an appointment to donate by calling 865-521-2658 or 865-524-3074.

Risk at grocery store vs. bar

The Knox County Board of Health’s regulation closing bars has had many questioning why they are closed compared to a grocery store or restaurant that may see more people per day. Menefee said the regulation comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions recommendations and is based on the nature of social interactions at the businesses.

“I think that grocery stores and other stores where you’re in and out, there’s probably a bit a little bit less inherent risk because you’re not staying for a long time,” she said. “You’re not interacting with individuals for a long time. You’re kind of walking through getting your things, you’re checking out for a short amount of time, and leaving.

“Bars tend to be more inherently risky due to the activities that happen in them. So people are in close quarters. You’re there to socialize, typically, and talk to each other and interact. You’re drinking. You can’t have a mask on when you’re doing that. All of those things put a little bit more risk into that category.”

Menefee also reiterated that most of the positive cases the Health Department is seeing are being contracted from family gatherings and workplaces where people are relaxing and ignoring the prevention guidelines.

“What we’re seeing is the social gatherings, wherever they are — whether they’re at home, in the bar, … in their workplaces, where you’re letting your guard down, and not practicing the five core actions routinely — that’s really where we’re seeing a lot of our clusters,” she said.

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

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