Home for the holidays: Knox County Health Department urges public to stay in place amid pandemic

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise dramatically in and around the area following the Thanksgiving holiday, the Knox County Health Department is urging the public to help slow the spread and to stay in their own households for Christmas.

“With Christmas next week, there is not enough time for our case load to level off before we could experience another surge on top of what we are already seeing,” Katharine Killen, chief stategy officer for KCHD said.

A day after releasing the department’s five COVID-19 benchmarks showing no change from “red” for the third straight week, Killen laid bare the data showing the surge in cases and deaths since the beginning of December.

A Knox County Health Department chart shows the correlation between holidays and an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among residents. Source: Knox County Health Department

According to the KCHD data at the beginning of the month, 51 people, an average of more than three per day, have died from COVID-19. The 51 deaths represent 20% of all Knox County resident deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

“Deaths from COVID are new and above what we would normally see from other deaths this time of year,” Killen said. “I think it’s important to remember that these people would still be with us had they not contracted COVID-19.”

More than 25% of all cases reported to KCHD since the pandemic began have happened in that same timeframe as the county is seeing an average of more than 400 new cases per day.

“We are urging you to celebrate the holidays with your household as that is the lowest-risk activity,” Killen said. “However, if you’re going to keep your plans of celebrating with those outside your household, please be diligent about practicing the five core actions.”

Vaccinations began coming to hospital systems in Knox County on Thursday. The Health Department expects to get their first shipment early next week. They will be receiving the Moderna version of the COVID-19 vaccine but they don’t know how much they will receive.

KCHD will follow the vaccination plan put forth by the Tennessee Department of Health and prioritize distribution. Top priority will be given to health care providers at schools, homes for the intellectually and developmentally disabled, first responders, and staff of mass COVID-19 testing events.

“We’ve been working closely with different groups and trying to get that information out and we will continue to do that today, tomorrow and especially once we get the vaccine next week,” Killen said.

The expectation is that there will not be enough vaccine in the first shipment for all people in the priority groups to receive it. Killen said it will take time to get the vaccine to everyone that wants it but it will take time.

In the meantime, Killen said the public should continue to follow the five core actions:

  • Practice physical distancing
  • Wear cloth face coverings
  • Practice proper handwashing
  • Clean/sanitize surfaces
  • Stay home if you’re sick

Killen compared following the fire core actions to that of wearing a seat belt.

“There is no guarantee that by wearing a seat belt I’m not going to get hurt or worse in accident,” she said, “but you better believe I put one on every single time I get in a car.”

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