Coronavirus in Tennessee: Knox County reports another day of double-digit growth in cases, red lights given to pair of benchmarks

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Health Department reported 34 new COVID-19 cases — a 4.4% one-day increase — on Friday. Hospitalizations are also up.

There now have been 804 coronavirus cases in Knox County, up from 632 a week ago (an increase of 29.1%).

The Health Department reported 25 more active cases Friday, bringing the total number of active cases to 197.

Active COVID-19 cases in Knox County increased by 26 on Tuesday and 36 on Thursday. On Sunday, Knox County reported 114 active cases in the county.

There are 12 Knox County COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, up from nine on Thursday. There have been five total deaths in Knox County from COVID-19. The last death from COVID-19 was reported on April 28.

The number of recovered COVID-19 cases is 605. 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.

Of the 807 cases, 67 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are 27 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.

Pair of benchmarks get red lights

Two of the five benchmarks set out in the Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan were set to red Friday during the Health Department’s weekly update as new cases of COVID-19 continue to climb.

 The traffic light system is being utilized to depict the status of each benchmark in an easy-to-understand way.

 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.

Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department, said the county has experienced “five red-level flags on five consecutive days” when it comes to sustained reduction or stability in new cases.

While the increase has been expected as more businesses reopen and more people return to the workforce, the increase has been “very concerning,” according to Buchanan.

“What we want to see moving forward is the new cases becoming more stable and leveling off,” she said. “Slow, steady increases allow us to have cases recover and roll off the active case list as new cases are being added, keeping that kind of steady.

“However when we experience spikes, especially when they are sustained, the active case counts jump up quickly. Cases are being added to our active case count at a higher rate than they are rolling off currently.”

The second benchmark, communitywide sustained and increased diagnostic testing with consistent or decreased test result reporting turnaround time, was set to red as the statewide reporting system is experiencing a delay in the reporting of negative tests.

Buchanan said the system is designed to give an accurate count of positive COVID-19 cases only. Positive case numbers are not being affected.

However, the delay in negative case numbers given out by the state may be leading to the lower numbers of conducted tests. Buchanan said through her talks with local private testing providers and hospitals, as well as reviewing the Health Department’s records, testing looks to be consistent with previous weeks.

Hospital capacities’ remain ‘adequate’

The benchmark for hospitals’ ability to deal with a COVID-19 surge stayed green this week as bed, intensive care unit and ventilator capacities declined.

As of Friday, the available bed capacity for the 19 hospitals in the 16-county region is less than 25%. Available ICU capacity is at less than 15%.

Buchanan said in talking with the hospitals they are still adaquately prepared to deal with a potential surge and can still increase capacities should the need arise.

“This is not unusual for the hospitals to have this level of occupancy,” she said. “They know their business, and they know their capacity much better than I do.”

Roll back up to board of health

With the increase in cases, questions about whether Knox County will pause or roll back reopening plans have risen. Those decisions are ultimately up to the Knox County board of health. The board is meeting from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday to discuss their plans and review the numbers of COVID-19 cases.

“The board of health has that authority to make a decision about how we move forward or don’t move forward or what that looks like,” Buchanan said. “They voted to keep the benchmarks and keep using them to make decisions.”

KCHD making benchmark release, testing changes

KCHD is making a change to testing times and its release of benchmark data next week. Testing will still be held at its main office at 140 Dameron Ave. The tests are given at no cost and anyone can receive a test regardless of symptoms. Testing will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Friday is the recognized holiday for the Fourth of July.

Benchmarks will be released Wednesday to coincide with the board of health’s meeting.

“Moving forward, once the board of health has determined and regular meeting schedule, we will consistently report our benchmarks on the day of the week that they designate,” Buchanan said.

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

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