Coronavirus in Tennessee: Knox County makes testing changes, explains how it reports deaths

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Knox County reported three new deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, according to new data from the Knox County Health Department.

Knox County reported 120 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, a 3.89% increase in the total case count of 3,205. There are 1,847 active COVID-19 cases in Knox County.

Of the 26 deaths in Knox County, 21 have occurred since the beginning of July.

Of the 3,205 total cases reported in Knox County since the pandemic began, 193 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are 45 Knox County patients currently hospitalized.

The number of recoveries is now 1,332. 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 140 probable cases of COVID-19 on the county website.

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.

KCHD testing changes

The Health Department is making changes to its COVID-19 testing again. Testing hours this week will be from 8 a.m. to noon at the main office at 140 Dameron Ave. There is no need for an appointment but wait times may be lengthy.

If you are seeking a test, you are asked to bring water and be prepared to wait. KCHD is also asking test takers to quarantine until they receive their results so as to limit possible spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Health Department also changed lab analysis partners on Monday in hopes of cutting down their wait time for results.

There is no cost to the individuals but the department will be taking insurance information from test seekers on the heels of a $7 million grant from the federal government.

The grant is specifically for testing uninsured community members, increasing lab capacity, the hiring of contact tracers and purchasing personal protective equipment. Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the KCHD, said the department has yet to receive any CARES Act money for fighting COVID-19 locally.

The Health Department increased its epidemiology support team to 166 members this week. The team may assist with case investigation, contact tracing, monitoring, data input and data analysis, according to the KCHD COVID-19 website.

The team has reached out to its lab-tested positive cases within 24 hours and to close contacts of positive cases in 48 hours since the start of the pandemic. More members are expected to be added this week as the department starts its vaccination rush up to school beginning in Knox County.

“Our staff will continue to work the response; just fewer hours a week so they can do other stuff in those hours,” Buchanan said.

She went on to say if you get a call from KCHD saying you are a close contact to a positive case, you should be prepared to answer some questions and quarantine for 14 days since last contact with the positive case.

“We simply ask for you to be honest and respectful to our team as they just doing their jobs and trying to prevent further spread in our community,” Buchanan said.

The incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days. Buchanan said there is no testing out of quarantine since the virus can show up anytime during that 14 days. A quarantine means no going to work, to school or to public places.

Buchanan said there are community parters that are assisting close contacts with bills, groceries, etc. and the department is putting them in contact with each other.

Death reporting explained

Buchanan said the three latest deaths are a 68-year-old woman, a 74-year-old man and a 43-year-old man. No other details were released per KCHD policy.

Questions about how death from COVID-19 is determined and plotted in the county’s data were raised during the Monday briefing.

Buchanan said KCHD does not make a determination on cause of death.

“That determination has to be provided either by the provider who saw the patient or perhaps by the medical examiner’s office,” she said. “They report (the cause of death) to us. We don’t make that determination.”

Once a date of death is known, the death is reported by the Health Department. The date for which the deceased actually passed is then recorded on the department’s benchmark website. KCHD receives death notices from either the medical examiner or a hospital.

Limiting spread

Buchanan said any changes that the mask mandate is helping mitigate the spread should come this week or next after two incubation periods for the virus. The Knox County Board of Health’s mask mandate went into effect July 3.

Buchanan warned against half measures of following the five core actions to slow the spread of the disease.

The five actions are:

  • Practice physical distancing
  • Wear a cloth face covering when in public and physical distancing can’t be maintained
  • Wash hands properly and often
  • Clean surfaces regularly
  • Stay home when sick or told to quarantine/isolate

“I think a lot of people in our community are taking COVID seriously but I think a lot people are not,” she said.

Buchanan likened not following the five actions consistently to cheating on a diet.

“You don’t get to do it when you choose,” she said. “If you do it when you choose, it’s not going to work. If everybody’s treating it like it is optional in some situations, it won’t work for the whole community.

“Don’t let your guard down. Understand that COVID-19 can be anywhere in the community. Even that person that you know really well who wouldn’t do you harm could accidentally make you sick or you could accidentally make them sick.”

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