Knox County leaders speak on threat of COVID-19 delta variant

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention told U.S. senators Tuesday the delta variant of COVID-19 is now responsible for 83% of current cases.

While cases of the delta variant are still relatively low in East Tennessee, state Sen. Richard Briggs said that won’t be the case for long.

“To think that somehow Tennessee will be spared this next wave of the delta virus, I think, is just being very naïve and being hopeful and not really facing reality,” said Briggs, who is also a doctor. “It will be here and it will hit hardest the areas and the regions of our state where we have the largest percentage of unvaccinated people, It’s coming!”

The latest numbers from the Knox County Health Department show 44.7% of people are fully vaccinated. That’s a much larger percentage than the 38.5% statewide who are fully vaccinated.

“We have too many Tennesseans that are vaccine-hesitant and that have not agreed and have not taken the vaccine up to this point,” said Briggs. “I think it’s very unfortunate, particularly with this delta virus that we have going around the world right now because it’s many more times more infectious, it may be more deadly, it’s not clear.”

The lead epidemiologist with the Knox County Health Department said the recent jump in cases isn’t surprising considering we’re coming off a major summer holiday, the Fourth of July.

“You had a lot of people getting together and you know we’re about 16 days from that and with that, we’re starting to see increases in cases,” said Roberta Sturm with KCHD.

Sturm says it’s all about keeping things in perspective.

“We were breaking 100 cases a day this time last year whereas right now we’ve seen, at most in the last week or so, maybe 60 cases a day,” she said.

Sturm added the lowest average number of cases a day for the county was back at the start of June, when there were five cases a day, sometimes less. When asked if there’d be a potential for more mask mandates or a second shutdown she said it’s not just up to her.

“There’s a lot more players involved to make those types of decisions.”

In the meantime, the KCHD will continue to track testing in the community, positivity rates, case numbers, and vaccination rates.

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