Coronavirus in Tennessee: Health Department benchmarks split ahead of Knox County board of health meeting

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported 50 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday — a 5.39% one-day increase and the second-highest number of new cases reported in one day.

It is the second day this week with a record number. It’s the biggest jump in the total number of cases in the county since 53 were reported on Monday.

The number of active cases went up by 37 to bring the number of active cases to 271. There have been 977 total cases in the county.

There are 13 Knox County COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, down from 14 on Tuesday. There have been five total deaths in Knox County from COVID-19. The last death from COVID-19 was reported on April 28.

The Health Department reported 13 new recovered cases Wednesday. The total number of recoveries is now 701. 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 977 cases, 78 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are 29 probable cases of COVID-19 listed on the county information page.

The Knox County Board of Health meets from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the next steps in efforts to contain the coronavirus while reopening the economy.

The Knox County Health Department updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. Visit covid.knoxcountytn.gov for more information.

Benchmarks split

The Health Department released its weekly benchmarks update Wednesday to coincide with the board of health meeting. The benchmarks will be released the same day the board meets going forward.

The five benchmarks set out by the initial Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan were kept by the board in its first meeting two weeks ago.

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness of the Knox County Health Department, repeatedly called for Knox County residents to adhere to the five core actions of the reopening plan as the benchmarks showed cases of COVID-19 are increasing.

The five core 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

“They’re easy things and everybody’s empowered to do them and we asked them to do them.,” Menefee said. “We need that to be happening more so we can start to see this curve back down more than it has been lately.”

The first benchmark, sustained reduction or stability in new cases for 14 days, remained “red.” The second benchmark, community-wide sustained and increased diagnostic testing with consistent or decreased test result reporting turnaround time, was made “yellow” after getting a red designation a week ago. All others were “green.”

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 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.

“We have seen several consecutive days of red flags and a significant sustained increase in new cases,” Menefee said. “This is a concerning trend and further reiterates that this virus is still very much present in Knox County.”

Testing data from the state has not caught up after a system shutdown on Sunday of the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System Base System, known as NBS. Menefee reiterated that after talking with the county’s hospitals and private practices and a review of their own data, that testing and testing times “look to be in good shape and consistent with recent weeks.”

Mask mandate up to county board of health

When the board meets they will have to decide on what changes, if any, will be made to their plan for Knox County. The board voted to follow the Tennessee Pledge guidelines two weeks ago after the state allowed six metro areas to decide on their own reopening guidelines in March.

The Tennessee Pledge guidelines do not include mandated mask use to combat the novel coronavirus but Memphis and Nashville have made the decision to make it mandatory. Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon announced Tuesday that masks would be required to be word in city-owned buildings.

“I think that we know that wearing a mask reduces the transmission of the virus,” Menefee said when asked about mandated mask usage. “We encourage that. We’re not going to stop encouraging that. … Whether it’s mandated or not, I think there’s debate there, and that’ll be discussed … moving forward.”

School decisions up to school board, superintendent

While the Knox County Health Department and Knox County Schools are in constant contact with each other, decisions on what schools will look like in the fall on KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas and the school board.

“We are advisors to the school, ultimately,” Menefee said.

As far as guidelines they will follow, including 6 feet of distancing, that too will be up to the school board and the state’s guidelines.

“There’s the discussions that are being had of what’s feasible in classrooms and in schools, to try to do the best that they can do to protect the students and the staff and everybody that’s there,” Menefee said.

Vacationing, July 4 do’s and don’ts

Menefee also offered advice to travelers heading out this summer and this weekend for the Fourth of July.

Other than the five core actions, she also suggested families practice “cohoarding” by staying within the family groups and limiting their exposure to large groups.

“If you’re traveling, if you’re flying, making sure you’re wearing a mask, that you’re washing your hands frequently,” Menefee said. “When you’re driving, making sure … if you’re stopping to get gas and you’re going to pump the gas and you’re going into the store still following those five core actions are so important no matter where you are. There is risk everywhere that you can go at this time in our country.

“This is often an exciting time of the summer filled with travel and large gatherings, and we know celebrations may look a little different this year. But we are grateful to those in our community who are planning to celebrate while also prioritizing the five core actions to ensure the safety of those around them.”

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

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