KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Controversy surrounding mask mandates and COVID-19 guidelines is taking its toll on the public and public health employees, according to Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan.
“It’s challenging for contact tracers and case investigators because we’re finding less cooperation,” Buchanan said at Tuesday’s scheduled briefing. “Part of that is just due to fatigue and part of that is due to some just the the overall negativity that seems to be very pervasive among some people, in addition to that our phone bank takes calls from people who are upset about things.”
Buchanan said of the Knox County Board of Health’s mandates and regulations, and the department’s role in public health, that there is “a lot of crossover and confusion” about who is doing what, but her staff remains positive.
“We all come in everyday to do the job that we are dedicated to and we know is the right thing to do in protecting our community.”
When asked about data supporting the use of masks, Buchanan referenced studies published in medical journals, including “The Lancet,” and said if everyone were to wear a mask ,the positive-case curve would not be as steep.
“People are unknowingly giving people COVID-19 because maybe they are not very sick or they don’t have any symptoms yet,” she said. “They’re not wearing a mask and talking to their friends or having lunch with their friends and giving COVID-19 to people inadvertently.”
According to Charity Menefee, KCHD’s director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness, 35% to 36% of people testing postive report to the department’s contact tracers that they have knowingly been in contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.
Hospitals urge public to remain cautious
In a letter Tuesday, four Knox County-area hospital groups warning of a possible return to a moratorium on elective surgeries. The warning comes as the 19 hospitals in the Knox County region say hospitalizations doubled within the past month. Hospitalizations, however, did dip Tuesday among only Knox County residents.
Buchanan said while the Knox County Health Department works with area hospitals, a decision on how to deal with potential surges of patients is up to the hospitals themselves.
“They know best how they can change their operations to accommodate more patients,” Buchanan said. “I think they are looking at lots of different options, and I don’t think any one option has been chosen yet.”
Early in the pandemic, the state’s COVID-19 task force identified the Expo Center as a possible alternative care site. Opening that site would be up to state officials. The Expo Center is in use as an early voting location.
Buchanan said it is the hope that such a site would not be needed since staffing would be a tough issue to undertake.
Buchanan: New health, economic board ‘useful’
While there are many unknowns about the new health and economic board created Monday night by the County Commission, Buchanan said she and KCHD will welcome working with the 11 members who will make up the board.
Commissioners voted in favor of the resolution 8-2-1. Commissioner Terry Hill did not vote on the measure.
“Having different points of view and different input into decisions being made is always useful,” Buchanan said. “We are committed to working with whoever is on that team to guide the mayor, County Commission and our community to making good decisions.”
COVID-19 vaccine questions
Buchanan also addressed the uncertainty of a COVID-19 vaccine. She said while the production and testing may seem rushed, she believes the Food and Drug Administration will take its time before releasing a safe vaccine.
“What we can be assured of in this country is that they will be following the same strict guidelines that are in place for approval for vaccinations regularly,” Buchanan said. “If you’re not comfortable taking the vaccine, that’s certainly up to you. You could sure wait a while and see how it goes for the first few people and decide to take it later.”
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