Health Dept. Director Buchanan: New cases of COVID-19 among young people leading to rise across Knox County

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A surge of positive COVID-19 cases among young people is causing Knox County’s numbers to trend in the wrong direction.

Director of the Knox County Health Department Dr. Martha Buchanan said the largest spike in cases are coming among young people, age 11 to 30, as students return to the classroom.

“Students and parents need to make sure they are following these actions not only in the classroom but outside the classroom as well,” Buchanan said. “That means social gatherings, study groups, going out to eat, or any other social activity you might engage in.”

Both Knox County Schools and the University of Tennessee have set up teams to work hand-in-hand with KCHD. Buchanan said KCS has a standing meeting once a week with the Health Department to discuss the pandemic.

“It has really helped speed things up,” Buchanan said of the teams working with the health department.

While a rise in cases was expected with the return to school, Buchanan said the rate of new cases is surprising but the number of close contacts is not as surprising.

While most of the deaths related to COVID-19 are among older people, Buchanan warned young people are not immune to the worst of the virus.

“Young people can become very ill from COVID-19 and end up in the hospital,” Buchanan said. “Severity of illness varies in young people just like it does in older people.”

Board of Health

University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman was in attendance last night at the Knox County Board of Health meeting asking for a geographic closure of bars near the campus, similar to a measure passed in Nashville. The board declined that request.

The Health Department continues to be in charge of enforcement for the board’s mandates. Buchanan said she is not aware of any repeat offenders of mandates and the department continues to focus on education and not discipline.

Benchmarks recap

The Health Department’s benchmarks continue to be a mixed bag. One green light, three yellow lights and one red light were reported Wednesday.

To more visually represent how the benchmarks are being attained, a traffic light is being utilized to depict the status of each benchmark.

 Red signifies the trends are not moving towards benchmark attainment and may indicate adjustments need to be made.

 Yellow signifies the trends are moving towards/away from reaching benchmark attainment. Yellow indicates caution.

 Green signifies that the benchmark is currently met.

Benchmark No. 1, sustained reduction or stability in new cases for 14 days, is listed as red this week. Buchanan said last week Knox County cases were appearing to trend upward. That was confirmed this week as there have been five consecutive red flags in the last six days.

Benchmark No. 2, Community-wide sustained and increase diagnostic testing with consistent or decreased test result reporting turnaround time, is yellow. Testing turnaround time continues to be under two days but the number of tests being administered is declining.

Buchanan said the decline in residents getting tested is not for lack of testing supplies or access to testing. She

“We worry about two things: One, people not getting tested because they are afraid to know they are positive and they don’t want to have to be in isolation or have their family in quarantine,” Buchanan said. “We are also concerned about maybe people just becoming complacent. … Both of those are concerns because that means we have people walking around who have COVID, who don’t know they have it, potentially exposing others.”

Benchmark No. 3, sustained or increased public health capability, is green. Epidemiology team members remain at adequate levels, but with the volume of positive cases rising, the Health Department is again looking at adding to the staff.

Benchmark No. 4, Health care system capabilities remain within current and forecasted surge capacity, is yellow. No flags were raised about hospital and intesive care unit beds this week according to health care officials in the region. Ventailator use did see four counsecutive days of caution.

The hospital systems meet weekly to discuss current capacity and surge capacity. The decision on how to represent the benchmark is made in concert with the Knox County Health Department and the hospital system.

Benchmark No. 5, sustained or decreased COVID-19 related death rate for identified positive or probable cases, is yellow. During the last two weeks there have been 10 deaths in Knox County including seven in the last seven days.

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