COVID-19 cases on the rise in Knox County; KCHD epidemiologist says trend could continue

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– After a couple of months of COVID-19 cases decreasing, the number of cases are back up on the rise statewide, and it’s a trend health experts said could continue within the next few months.

The Tennessee Department of Health continue to track COVID-19 cases, and based on this map, a slight rise in July was reported.

In Knox County, data shows a 39% increase in active cases from last week to this week.

Roberta Sturm, the lead epidemiologist at the Knox County Health Department, said so far, the community has been doing good keeping the number of cases low.

“We had several days where we only had one, two, three cases. We got our average weekly case count down to about five, which is phenomenal,” Sturm said.

However, she said since gatherings have gone back to normal and people are enjoying a more normal summer, the cases started to rise again. She said the cases in July average to about 16 a day, where the county was seeing about five a day back in June.

Sturm’s department can see the trends of why that is.

“Some of it’s coming from places or events where people tend to gather. We’re also seeing a lot of people, a lot of cases that we’re talking to are saying that they’ve traveled recently,” Sturm said.

She said the increase doesn’t surprise her. She said at least the numbers are better this summer than last summer.

“This actual week last year, we broke 100 cases in a day. And that trend rose so incredibly fast. What we’re seeing this year is we’re seeing a fourth of that number of cases,” Sturm said.

Sturm did note that the number of people getting tested was still on the downward trend, so the data we have doesn’t display how many more people in the county might have COVID-19.

On another bright side, Sturm said the increase in Knox County isn’t as bad in other cities.

She said there’s a few reasons why we are better off this year, when it comes to why we aren’t seeing the same spikes as last year. Despite the variants, Sturm said the vaccine is a big factor.

About 45% of the county is fully vaccinated, and about 48% have at least one dose.

Sturm said about 52% of of minors 12 and older have been vaccinated, and nearly 80% of the 65 years and older population have been vaccinated.

“We have a very effective vaccine. We understand, we have experts who understand a lot more about this virus. We have a lot of people in the community that are helping provide vaccines and education around COVID, and our community knows what to do,” Sturm said.

Sturm said the Delta variant is present in Knox County, but it’s not the more prevalent strain.

“The predominant strains are B.1.1.7. That’s the one that originated in the UK. That one is about 40 to 50% of all the samples that were taken, because they can’t, obviously they can’t test every single sample for variants, because we see a lot of cases statewide and nationally. But of those samples, we’re also seeing a lot of the Delta variant. That makes up 20 to 30% of the samples that were taken,” Sturm said.

Sturm said the COVID-19 vaccine seems to be working well against any variant.

She said with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the efficacy rate is still at 95%.

“So that leaves five percent of the population, or five percent of those vaccinated that may get COVID. That’s just the nature of the vaccine. Now, I will say that (people) being vaccinated, research indicates that they will have some protective benefits, even if they do get sick,” Sturm said.

Sturm said they do collect data that details whether the recent increase of COVID-19 cases include people who are vaccinated, but she didn’t have the data on hand.

6 On Your Side staff reached out to the TDH for that answer, and we’re waiting to hear back.

Sturm said this trend we are seeing now with the rise in cases might continue for the next few months.

“I will say, with things like school starting back, and university students coming back, you’re taking a lot of people and putting them in one close environment. So we expect those cases to increase, but we’ve also put things in place to make sure that we’re prepared to handle that,” Sturm said.

She said it’s important to talk with a doctor about getting vaccinated, and the vaccines are easily accessible these days. She said getting vaccinated not only protects your person, but the loved ones around you.

If you would like to get a COVID-19 vaccine, you can call the KCHD at (865) 215-5555. You can also visit Vaccine Finder.

Sturm said as she expects more COVID-19 cases in the next few months, everyone can still take precautions to stay healthy.

“If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re child has a fever, wait till their 24 to 48 hours free before sending them back to daycare or to school. You know, if maybe you think you just have allergy symptoms, it’s better to be more precautious and stay home, to protect those around you that one, may not be vaccinated, or might get sick even if it’s not COVID. That’s good advice during flu season,” Sturm said.

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