KCHD Buchanan: Knox County is epicenter of COVID-19 outbreak; Christmas as usual puts people at risk

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan is urging Tennesseans to stay within their own households this Christmas and New Year’s as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Buchanan addressed the public Tuesday during the Health Department’s briefing for the first time since being diagnosed with COVID-19 10 days ago. She also announced that the department received its first doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.

When asked what could happen if people celebrate Christmas as normal this year, Buchanan said cases could increase from their current levels, around 400 new cases per day in Knox County, to more than 700 or 800.

Buchanan also said deaths in the county would also likely rise. Knox County is averaging three COVID-19-related deaths a day during the month of December.

“Tennessee is the epicenter of this outbreak right now, and Knox County is the epicenter of Tennessee. That is not a good place to be.

“If people pretend like the virus doesn’t exist and decide to have Christmas as usual, then they are putting themselves, and presumably people they care for, at risk of getting ill and maybe even having to go to the hospital and maybe even passing away.

“It is vitally important that we do not gather with people outside our households for Christmas or New Year’s.”

Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan

When asked about why Tennessee was seeing such a spike, Buchanan said inconsistent messaging from the state about guidelines and travel have contributed to the rise in cases.

“Without consistency our numbers are going up, and yes, traveling and going back and forth does spread the disease,” she said.

Buchanan addresses County Commission vote

The County Commission on Monday approved on first reading to make the Knox County Board of Health an advisory board and to give the power to set county health policy to the KCHD director.

Buchanan said while she supports keeping the board as it is, she is ready to take on the responsibility of deciding health policy and hopes if a change is made that the board will still serve an advisory role.

“I am here to serve this community and to make those tough decisions,” Buchanan said. “I have made those decisions before, and I will make them again.”

She noted that she has voted with the board’s majority since they have started making Knox County police during this pandemic.

Buchanan describes her COVID-19 case

Buchanan gave an account of her own battle with the virus over the last 10 days. Saying she had a “mild case” of the coronavirus, she described having symptoms similar to that of a bad cold with fatigue.

She said she was grateful that her case was mild and that she was able to get back to work. She also acknowledged that cases vary.

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