Coronavirus in Tennessee: Knox County surpasses 100 active cases for the first time, Health Department increasing contact tracing staff

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported eight new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to 441.

Knox County reported eight new active cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 101.

No new recovered cases were reported, and the total number of recoveries remained at 335. Recovered cases refer to those who have been released from isolation after seven days from their onset of symptoms, plus 72 hours of being symptom-free. Recovered does not mean necessarily the person had to be hospitalized.

One Knox County COVID-19 patient is currently hospitalized after no hospitalizations were reported Monday. There have been five deaths in Knox County from COVID-19 since the first locally confirmed case in March.

Of the 441 cases, 43 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are eight probable cases of COVID-19 listed on the county information page.

Increase in cases, expanding contact tracing

While the number of cases has risen, the message is still the same from Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department.

Buchanan said that the increase is concerning but not unexpected with more people going back to work, shops and restaurants following the move to phase 2 of the Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan.

“Your risk is the same throughout Knox County, no matter where you work, no matter where you live, no matter where you play,” Buchanan said. “We know it’s inconvenient and people are getting tired of doing it, but it’s the only way we’re going to really move our community forward and not have to revert back to phase 1. We don’t want to do that. Nobody wants to do that.”

Buchanan again stressed the five core actions of social distancing outlined in the plan.

“These actions won’t eradicate COVID-19 from our overnight but they are critical to reducing the rate of transmission,” she said.

The five core actions are:

  • Practice social distancing,
  • Wear cloth face coverings when in public and social distancing can’t be achieved,
  • Wash your hands properly and often,
  • Clean surfaces regularly, and
  • Stay home when sick.

“Cases being at an all-time high doesn’t change our guidance,” Buchanan said. “We have been telling everyone to act as though they or someone else can potentially be asymptomatic and infected with COVID-19 from the beginning and to observe the five core actions of social distancing.”

The Health Department is in the process of expanding its contact tracing staff to handle the increased caseload. On Friday, the staff added four members from within the department bringing the total number of contact tracing staff members to 35.

Quarantine enforcement

Buchanan also asked for cooperation from the community as the department conducts its contact tracing and issues quarantine guidance.

“If individuals get calls from our team regarding a positive test result, please show some compassion as these individuals are asking the many questions they ask to help protect your loved ones and the community,” she said.

“We can’t force anybody to tell us the information we are asking about, although we really do want them to tell us the information because it is so important in protecting their friends and family and the broader community.”

While most comply with the guidance given to them, Buchanan said the Health Department can issue a health directive to potential cases in quarantine or a health measure with a court order to those who test positive and are not following safety guidelines.

Defining clusters

Many of the new Knox County cases of COVID-19 have been linked to clusters. The Tennessee Department of Health defines a cluster as two or more confirmed cases (with positive lab results) of COVID-19 that are linked by the same location of exposure (e.g., hospital, long-term care facility, grocery store, etc.) or exposure event (e.g., work party, vacation, etc.) that is not a household exposure.

KCHD is now working on expanding the contact tracing staff in nontraditional ways in concert with businesses and county leaders to keep the clusters to a minimum.

The Health Department has said the local Latino community has seen clusters increase and they are taking steps to reduce the spread including a focused social media campaign and identifying trusted leaders within the Latino community to get the department’s message out. The increased staff members to the contact tracing team will also include interpreters.

Testing

COVID-19 testing at the Knox County Health Department continues to be free and open to any who would like to receive a test. The testing is available without an appointment from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the department’s main office at 140 Dameron Ave.

“We are asking that everyone who comes wear a cloth face covering to protect the people around you,” Buchanan said of those seeking a test. “We also ask that people coming for testing do not arrive in a large group to help us stick to social distancing guidelines.”

Buchanan said that 70 people had already received a COVID-19 test on Wednesday, the second day that testing was offered at the department’s new location. The move was done to utilize staff and remove any barriers to testing.

If you cannot make it to testing hours, the Health Department has a list of testing sites. To find a Knox County testing site or ask a general question about COVID-19, you can call the KCHD public information line, 865-215-5555.

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

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