Coronavirus: Knox County Health Department releases benchmarks for phased reopening plan

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Health Department on Friday released its five benchmarks for the county’s COVID-19 economic reopening process and a traffic-light system to show benchmark attainment.

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness for the KCHD, said the specific benchmarks to use were determined after a collaboration with epidemiologists with the current situation, data and national standards in mind.

The five benchmarks are: Sustained reduction or stability in new cases for 14 days; community-wide sustained and increased diagnostic testing with consistent or decreased test result reporting turnaround time; sustained or increased public health capability; healthcare system capabilities within current and forecasted surge capacity; and sustained or decreased COVID-19 related death rate for identified positive or probable cases.

“Decisions on how to move through the phases or whether to institute mid-phase adjustments will not be made on based on any one number or figure,” Menefee said. “Decisions must be made by looking at multiple data points and trends while incorporating public health expertise and development in science and technology.

“These decisions are not made in a vacuum and will be made in collaboration with city and county officials. All of these factors must be considered when determining when and how we will proceed through the reopening process.”

All five benchmarks have a traffic light grade system.

 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.

“Today all of our benchmarks are showing a green traffic light because we met all the requirements to start the reopening process,” Menefee said.

As Knox County moves through the phases of the reopening plan KCHD may consider additional benchmarks or modifications to the current criteria, Menefee said.

All benchmark information can be found at the Knox County Health Department’s COVID-19 Data and Benchmark page.

Sustained reduction or stability in new cases for 14 days

The first benchmark deals with the COVID-19 positive case count in Knox County. The county Health Department releases the total number of positive cases and current number of positive cases each day. Menefee said the most important part of this data is the new number of positive cases each day.

Knox County is yet to see a large spike in positive cases which has helped mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and flatten the curve.

Community-wide sustained and increased testing

Testing in Knox County has continued to improve from the first days of having the test available, not just in number of tests given but wait times for results.

The testing data given by the KCHD does not include all the tests given to Knox County residents. The data is from the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System Base System and includes only the number of tests where a Knox County address is listed.

“This information should be interpreted as a sample of testing in the community being provided by public health, hospitals and other medical providers,” the Health Department states on its website. “An upward trend in the number of tests in this system can be interpreted as an upward trend in broader testing across the community.”

Menefee said the current wait time for results is about three days and that KCHD hopes that wait time will improve.

Sustained or increased public health capability

Knox County Health Department has 31 employees dedicated currently to investigating new COVID-19 cases, including contract tracing, data entry and analysis. Twenty more from the Health Department have been trained to assist and 30 more could be trained if needed.

There are also an additional 166 city and county staff that could be brought in should the need arise to assist for a total of 247 possible support team members.

Healthcare system capabilities within surge capacity

“The whole point of us trying to flatten the curve and doing all the work that we’ve been doing was to make sure our hospitals were ready to care for the patients they need to care for and they’ve done a fabulous job,” Menefee said.

Data on daily bed counts and other capacity metrics has been provided by hospitals statewide to the Tennessee Department of Health for more than a decade. That information has been increased during the coronavirus pandemic. KCHD has pulled bed count, ICU bed count and ventilator data from Knox County and the 19 hospitals in the 15 surrounding counties for its benchmark.

Sustained or decreased COVID-19 related death rate

KCHD has reported five deaths from COVID-19. Four of the deaths have been people age 75 and above. Three have been men.

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

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