Knox County Health Dept. explains reasoning behind alcohol curfew, shares anger staff faces from public

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The alcohol curfew imposed on bars and restaurants by the Knox County Board of Health on Wednesday is based on similar regulations put in place across the country and the normal activity within such establishments.

That was the reasoning Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness at the Knox County Health Department, gave Thursday during the department’s media briefing.

Menefee said curfew guidelines have reduced the number of positive COVID-19 cases.

“It is about saying that there are areas where they’ve had these regulations in place that limit those actives, and they have seen numbers drop with the regulations in place,” she said.

While the Health Department has not identified any COVID-19 clusters related to bars, the known actions of bar and restaurant goers, like eating and drinking in close proximity to unknown people, is a contributing factor to the coronavirus’s spread.

“We have absolutely had cases that tell us that they’re going to bars and restaurants and doing all those things. It really is about behavior and the way this disease spreads from person to person that is informing the recommendations that we are making. And this is happening across the country in various areas.”

Menefee also pointed to the largest growth of positive cases is among 18 to 22 year olds.

“While they may not have a lot of negative health consequences, the more that the disease is in the community, the more they’ll come into contact with people that could potentially end up having all of the negative health consequences we’ve been talking about and worried about,” she said.

‘Undercurrent of anger’ toward KCHD staff

Menefee was also asked about the Health Department’s interactions with cases and close contacts after it was mentioned during the board of health meeting that staff had been “moved to tears” as a result of angry Knox County residents.

“It makes coming to work difficult a lot of times, and we worry about them,” Menefee said what she called the “undercurrent of anger.”

“If you can imagine the worse we’ve probably heard it.”

Menefee said everything the Health Department is doing to limit COVID-19’s spread is part of long-time public health policy and has been used previously like during the measles outbreak two years ago and in fighting local tuberculous outbreaks.

“They are doing their job and it has been a job that’s been done in public health long before COVID-19,” she said of the KCHD enforcement and contact tracing staffs.

Benchmarks review

Menefee also reviewed the benchmark updates that were released Wednesday afternoon. Among the five benchmarks there were three yellow lights, one green light and one red light.

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.

The benchmarks are:

  • No.1 Sustained reduction or stability in new cases for 14 days. Red.
  • No. 2 Community-wide sustained and increased diagnostic testing with consistent or decreased test result reporting turnaround time. Yellow.
  • No. 3 Sustained or increased public health capability. Green.
  • No. 4 Health care system capabilities within current and forecasted surge capacity. Yellow.
  • No. 5 Sustained or decreased COVID-19 related death rate for identified positive or probable cases. Yellow.

Menefee also continued to push the five core actions:

  • 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.

“The five core actions — that’s the freedom to be able to continue moving forward and living our lives,” she said. “It’s the balance that we have to play there so we don’t have even more severe consequences if the virus were to run rampant.”

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