Coronavirus in Tennessee: Federal team visits Knox County after seeing ‘rapid growth’ of cases as active cases surpass 700

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported 41 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday as the total number of active cases in the county surpassed 700.

There are now 708 active COVID-19 cases among Knox County residents. The county eclipsed 500 active cases on Tuesday.

Fourty-one Knox County patients are currently hospitalized due to the virus, up from 34 on Thursday.

Rising county cases prompted a team of representatives from the Centers for Disease Control, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response to visit Knox County this week to talk with health department workers about concerns including lab capacity and stress brought on by an extended emergency response. The disease response team arrived on Wednesday and departed on Friday.

No new deaths were reported Friday. The 10th death from COVID-19 in the county was reported on Wednesday. Five of the 10 deaths from COVID-19 in Knox County have been reported in the last eight days.

Of the 1,526 total cases seen in Knox County, 99 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. 

Knox County has reported 20 consecutive days with double-digit growth in cases. Knox County reported 9 new cases on Saturday, June 20. Fifteen of the 20 days saw 20 or more new cases. At least 45 new cases have been reported in eight of the 10 days in July thus far.

Knox County lists 43 probable cases of COVID-19 currently on the county website, up from 36 on Thursday.

The county reported no new recovered cases on Friday, The total number of recoveries remains at 808. Recovered cases refer to those who have been released from isolation after 10 days from their onset of symptoms, plus 72 hours of being symptom-free. Recovered does not mean necessarily the person had to be hospitalized.

The Knox County Health Department updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. Visit for more information. Press briefings by Knox County Health Department are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 12:30 p.m.

Increasing coronavirus cases

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness with the Health Department, tried to speak to common ground on Friday as the number of active COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Knox County. Saying the novel coronavirus is more prevalent in our community now than it has ever been, Menefee encouraged everyone to follow the five core actions.

“We know our hospitalization numbers are trending up and the number of deaths have doubled from what they were a little more than a week ago,” she said. “I’m not saying this to scare you, or to start a debate about the seriousness or legitimacy of this virus.

“I’m simply telling you what we know. We know COVID-19 is spreading in our community. We know it is sending people into the hospital, and we know that it’s tragically cutting short the lives of some in our community. I think we can all agree on these three things.

“That is why we are continuing to encourage everyone in our community to be mindful when they are out in public. Take every precaution to keep yourself in the people around you safe.”

The five core actions are:

  • Practice physical distancing
  • Wear a cloth face covering when in public and physical distancing can’t be maintained
  • Wash hands properly and often
  • Clean surfaces regularly
  • Stay home when sick or told to quarantine/isolate

Menefee went on to say these actions are the only way to mitigate the spread and end the pandemic.

Federal pandemic team visits Knoxville

A federal advisory team visited Knoxville on Wednesday and Thursday to address the rapid growth in cases in East Tennessee. The three-person team was made of members from the Centers for Disease Control and Preparedness, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response office in the Department of Health and Human Services met with government and health officials to offer support and federal guidance.

Menefee said it was one of about 14 visits the team has taken to hot spots for COVID-19 in the last two weeks.

“I think that reiterates the message that we’ve been saying,” Menefee said of the team’s visit. “The increase in deaths we’ve had are concerning, and we really need everybody to get on board. I mean, from all the way from the federal government, they’re saying we need to be on board with those five actions to help mitigate this and help limit the transmission of this virus in our community.”

COVD-19 reporting issues

The reporting from the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System Base System, or NBS, may not have reflected the number of negative tests in the Health Department’s jurisdiction for the past two weeks, as the residence isn’t always gathered for negative tests. The NBS is a CDC-developed information system that helps public health departments manage reportable disease data.

The Health Department is confident in its positive case count numbers but they have taken down some negative test information to avoid further confusion.

Historically, negative test results aren’t reported to public health at the local or statewide level. For that reason, there was not a standard system in place, statewide or federally, for the manner in which negative tests are reported. Typically, the burden of infectious disease is evaluated based on positives compared to total population.

Coronavirus hospitalizations

In an effort to be transparent, Menefee announced Friday that in the 16-county Tennessee Hospital Association’s Knoxville Region, which includes 19 hospitals in the counties surrounding Knox County, there are 84 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including the 41 in Knox County.

A current hospitalization is anyone with a primary residence within the reported county.

“We are very concerned, and we very much hold high standards to the data that we are putting out on the website,” Menefee said. “We just again, want to be on the safe side and make sure that we’re putting out the most accurate information that we have. And we didn’t feel great about it today. So we’re looking at our spreadsheets and how we’re calculating information and are working on that over this weekend.”

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

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