KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Knox County. Active cases have increased by nearly 50% since Thursday, according to the latest data released by the Knox County Health Department.
Roberta Sturm, KCHD’s new Director of Communicable and Environmental Disease and Emergency Preparedness, said the number of people testing positive since July 1 has been increasing rapidly, and it’s partly thanks to the Delta variant.
“It’s different from the other variants that we’ve dealt with for COVID-19. And this one is a lot more transmissible, so it’s a lot easier to get and it’s a lot easier to transmit,” Sturm said.
She said the spread isn’t necessarily specific to schools, although that type of gathering doesn’t help the virus stop spreading.
“I would have to say that in any situation where people come together and gather, the virus has a greater opportunity to spread among the population,” Sturm said.
That being said, and not specifically pinpointing schools or universities, Sturm said KCHD believes in-person learning is crucial for kids. Unlike last year, Knox County Schools isn’t doing the contact tracing. That falls under the health department.
With the influx of cases the county saw last year, KCHD had to hire more staff to help with the contact tracing process. Now that the cases started spiking again, they had to do the same thing.
“So we scaled back in June when our case counts were, decreased significantly. And thankfully, a lot of those individuals we were able to bring back on board to help with contact tracing,” Sturm said.
Sturm said the Tennessee Department of Health helps with some of the contact tracing, and KCHD has also implemented new ways to try to move the process along more quickly.
“We also use a platform that helps send out information via text message that may send a survey link. So, if you see a survey link from the health department, it sends you directly to our interview form and you don’t have to wait on a call from us,” Sturm said.
Sturm said even with the extra help and new survey platform, contact tracing is delayed because of the influx of cases. She said the process is long: first, someone has to get tested and those results are sent to the state. Sturm said the test could take a couple of days to process. Once the results are in the state’s data system, that’s when KCHD starts the interviewing process to find out who else needs to be contacted, which could also take some time.
Sturm said if you know you’re positive with COVID-19, go ahead and start reaching out to whoever you’ve been in contact with.
“Parents, individuals, they’re going to have their test results sometimes before they even leave the doctor’s office, sometimes within 24 hours. So, when they have that test result, they’re going to see that much quicker than public health can,” Sturm said.
Sturm said she has seen more at-home COVID-19 test results come into the health department. She said it’s probably because those test kits are more readily available these days.
She said those results are considered ‘probable cases,’ and are treated as such. This means, people who take those at-home tests need to notify the health department if their results are positive, otherwise they won’t know and won’t be able to contact others who might have been exposed.
Sturm said along with the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, they’ve also seen a rise in COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Since the beginning of July, week by week we’re seeing more and more individuals receiving that first dose of the vaccine. And we expect that since the vaccine has been, had received full federal approval, we expect to see that increase continue,” Sturm said talking about the full FDA approval of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. She hopes to see that trend continue if/when the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are fully approved.
Sturm said despite the rise in cases, the health department can only highly recommend people get vaccinated and follow the five core actions and CDC guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19. That means continue washing hands often, staying home when sick, wearing a mask when social distancing isn’t possible and get vaccinated, Sturm said.
“To get out of this pandemic, it’s really going to take everyone trying to get vaccinated. We encourage vaccination. There’s vaccines widely available throughout the community, and that’s really the best steps we can take as individuals to kind of get out of this pandemic,” Sturm said.
Polls are out there suggesting a good amount of people still won’t get vaccinated despite scientists, healthcare professionals and the FDA saying the vaccines are safe and effective. To those people, Sturm said to do anything possible to keep the virus from spreading, and your loved ones safe.
“Vaccination is the best decision they can make for themself, and also for those around them. However, if they choose not to be vaccinated, then you know, there’s other things that they can do to protect themself and their family. And that goes back to washing your hands, staying home if you’re sick, if you are sick, maybe you know, consider getting tested so that those people you’ve been around can quarantine appropriately,” Sturm said.