Knox County Health Department joining state, CDC in redefining COVID-19 cases, close contacts

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Health Department will be joining the Tennessee Department of Health in redefining its COVID-19 cases as new information has been brought to light on the novel virus.

KCHD said in the coming days changes will be made to the COVID-19 data webpage. The changes will be in line with the definitions that were released Thursday by the state. The state’s definitions are based on the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s important to note that as the medical and scientific communities learn more about COVID-19, a novel virus, we will continue to make updates,” the department said in response to questions by WATE. “This includes periodically updating key reporting metrics. While any changes in guidance or reporting metrics may be frustrating or confusing for the public, it would be irresponsible for health officials to ignore new information.”

Changes include: redefining recovered to inactive cases, defining active vs. inactive cases, and changing the parameters for close contacts.

Until now, active cases were calculated by taking the total number of cases and subtracting the recovered cases.

As positive cases of COVID-19 began to arrive in Knox County, public health team members made ongoing individual follow-up calls with cases to determine if the case had recovered. As active cases increased, the individual follow-ups became impractical and a 21-day baseline was established to determine when a case was considered recovered.

The 21-day period was determined based on “the information at the time about infectivity of COVID-19.” The baseline going forward for inactive cases will be 14 days or more beyond the case’s illness onset date or, for asymptomatic cases, their specimen collection date.

“Recent data from CDC show most patients with COVID-19 are no longer infectious after 10 days, although they may have lingering symptoms for some time,” the Knox County Health Department said. “Therefore, we will report ‘inactive’ cases instead of ‘recovered’ cases in line with TDH.”

The department said the additional four days in this definition accounts for those cases who experience symptoms for a longer time frame and require isolation until the symptoms resolve.

The change from recovered to inactive will not affect isolation and quarantine requirements.

As a result of moving from recovered after 21 days to inactive after 14 days, active cases will also decline.

Close contacts, have been defined as anyone that spends 10 minutes or more within six feet or less of a positive case. The new guideline makes it 15 minutes or more.

This will not change the active and inactive case counts since active and inactive cases refer to actual cases who have the virus. The close contacts guideline will affect the number of people who have to quarantine as a result of being near an active case.

“We will continue to review our metrics alongside state and national information and work diligently to communicate any updates as thoroughly as possible to help our community better understand the burden of disease in Knox County,” the Health Department said.

Implementing the changes will take a few days, according to a KCHD statement. There may still be discrepancies between county and state data, that will be corrected within a few days.

Additionally, through our case investigations we occasionally find duplicates in the state’s assignments or we find cases who need to be moved to a different jurisdiction. This data cleaning happens at the local level in our investigations, not at the state level, which is another reason some discrepancies between our figures and the state’s may continue. 

KCHD Statement to WATE 6 On Your Side

KCHD also notes that while the changes may be frustrating or confusing, they are working to update online platforms to answer any questions that may arise.

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