Coronavirus in Tennessee: Knox County reports 2 new deaths, Health Department discusses testing, contact tracing protocols

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department on Tuesday reported two new COVID-19 deaths as the total number of county cases since the pandemic began topped 6,000.

The Knox County Health Department reported 50 new cases of COVID-19, a 0.84% increase in the total case count. Health Department officials also reported 120 new recoveries.

Of the 55 deaths in Knox County, 50 have occurred since July 2.

There are now 2,160 active cases in Knox County, down from 2,225 Monday.

Of the 6,029 total confirmed cases reported in Knox County since the pandemic began, 251 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are 31 county patients currently hospitalized.

The number of recoveries is at 4,031. 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 217 probable cases of COVID-19 on the county website.

Health Department testing this week will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Knox County Halls Senior Center, 4405 Crippen Road.

KCHD updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. Visit covid.knoxcountytn.gov for more information. Press briefings by Knox County Health Department have been moved to Tuesday and Thursday. Briefings begin at 12:30 p.m.

School case protocols

Knox County Schools began the fall semester Monday with school nurses joining the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic defense. While the novel coronavirus presents challenges unlike the typical flu season, they have been trained by the Knox County Health Department to aid in slowing COVID-19’s spread.

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness at KCHD, said school nurses have been trained to be contact tracers.

“They’ve gone through all of our training,” Menefee said on Tuesday. “They’ve signed all of our confidentiality and (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) agreements and been through, actually volunteered, with our medical reserve corp. So they let us know when they find out about cases because sometimes they find out before reporting system or we let them know when there are cases.”

The school nurses and Health Department work in tandem to conduct contact tracing for each school case. KCHD does the initial interview with the case and follows up with outside-of-school tracing. The nurses or COVID-19 school staff do contact tracing for inside the school.

Testing, contact tracing overview

Menefee went on to describe how testing and contact tracing works at KCHD.

Once a person goes to get a test at the Health Department testing site they are asked to give their name, address, and phone number where they can be reached. The department then gives a letter to each test taker about how to find their results online through a web portal.

Testing this week is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Halls Senior Center, 4405 Crippen Road. Testing next week will return to the Jacobs Building in Chilhowee Park. Testing next week will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

Results and contact information stay private, Menefee said. No one from KCHD will ask for a Social Security number or account information. The department also stopped taking insurance information recently.

Positive cases and close contacts should receive a call daily from a contact tracer. That contact tracer may not be from Knox County as the Tennessee Department of Health has taken on expanded duties. TDH officials may be calling from a 615 area code.

If a positive case or close contact is not receiving a daily call or you have questions about if the call you received from the Knox County Health Department, call the KCHD public information line 865-215-5555.

Department fatigue

Menefee said many in the Health Department are feeling the effect of stress and fatigue as the COVID-19 pandemic has gone on locally for six months.

“We’re tired,” she said. “This is a hard road. It’s long hours, it’s seven days a week.”

Menefee asked for grace and patience from those receiving a contact tracing call from KCHD. The contact tracing staff has been increased recently and have had to learn the ins and outs of the job under fire. Some of the staff pulled from other parts of the county government have no public health experience.

“These individuals provided some relief to our staff who have worked around the clock and are attempting to get back to some of their typical job duties while still working the response when necessary,” she said.

“Just be understanding that the things they are asking you to do is to protect your friends, your family and your community.”

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