Coronavirus Tennessee: Knox County Health Dept. explains role with schools, UT as cases rise

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Health Department Director Martha Buchanan explained the changes to the way COVID-19 cases are counted and stressed the five core actions, especially among the young, during her press briefing on Tuesday.

Knox County saw its largest one-day increase in new cases during the weekend with the majority coming from the 11-20 and 21-30 age groups. This as school in Knox County began a little more than two weeks ago and at the University of Tennessee nearly three weeks ago.

“When you’re hanging out with your friends, when you’re going off-campus for a gather, eating lunch, doing homework together, the five core actions are still very important to follow,” Buchanan said. “The only way to move forward and see progress is if everyone works together practicing the five core actions consistently.”

The Health Department is working with Knox County Schools and UT by offering contact tracing and contact investigation staff.

Buchanan said the department’s relationship with both groups has made the collaboration easier during this coronavirus pandemic. KCS and UT are doing the internal, on-campus contact tracing for their students while KCHD is doing off-campus tracing.

Buchanan also explained that the majority of UT students are counted in Knox County numbers since their residence would be in a dorm room or off-campus housing in the county.

“If somebody is a UT student who decides to go home to a different county or even a different state, they will stay in UT’s count but drop out of our count,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan also echoed UT Chancellor Donde Plowman’s call to students to be mindful of gatherings.

“The virus doesn’t stop just because you are having a social event where all your friends are getting together,” Buchanan said. “I want to remind folks that we had young, health people end up in the hospital and severely ill with COVID-19. … Just because you are young and healthy doesn’t mean you can’t have some complications secondary to COVID-19 and even long-term effects from that.”

Count changes explained

The changes to how COVID-19 cases are counted once a subject has recovered made for a drop in active cases during the weekend. The count change was made in concert with the Tennessee Department of Health as it and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to learn more about COVID-19.

“As the medical and scientific community learns about this novel virus, change should and can be expected,” Buchanan said.

While the change to inactive case parameters means more inactive cases and that past data will not be able to accurately be compared to the data being collected going forward, the total case count per day will not be affected.

“This does not have any change on the total number of confirmed cases or how we receive notification of cases,” Buchanan said.

Isolation or quarantine requirements also stay the same.

COVID-19, flu vaccines

No COVID-19 vaccine is available yet, but the Knox County Health Department is prepared when one becomes available. There are still several vaccines being tested and awaiting human trials. Buchanan said she hopes to get many groups involved in dispersing the vaccine including community and private partners.

“We want to partner with local providers,” she said. “The state will do something similar with larger providers. … We don’t know what it is going to look like because we actually don’t even know what formulation will come out first.”

Buchanan also dispelled myths about herd immunity versus natural immunity.

“Herd immunity is accomplished by vaccination, not by people getting sick,” she said.

Natural immunity occurs when you become immune to a specific disease after contracting it. Natural immunity to COVID-19 is believed to be only three months.

Buchanan also stressed the need to get a flu shot.

“You need to get the flu shot as soon as possible,” she said. “As soon as it is available, get the flu shot.”

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