Coronavirus in Tennessee: 3 Knox County benchmarks set to red, case increases have Health Dept. ‘concerned’

Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported nearly 70 new COVID-19 cases and one new death as the total number of active cases surpassed total recoveries.

Knox County reported 67 new active cases and one new death on Wednesday. There are now 906 active COVID-19 cases in Knox County and 15 people have died from the virus.

Ten of the 15 deaths have been reported since Thursday, July 2.

The number of recoveries remained at 893. Recovered cases refer to those who have been released from isolation after 10 days from their onset of symptoms, plus 72 hours of being symptom-free. Recovered does not mean necessarily the person had to be hospitalized.

Of the 1,814 total cases seen in Knox County, 141 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are 45 Knox County patients currently hospitalized, up from 40 on Tuesday.

Knox County currently lists 72 probable cases of COVID-19 on the county website.

The Knox County Health Department updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. Visit covid.knoxcountytn.gov for more information. Press briefings by Knox County Health Department are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 12:30 p.m.

Benchmarks draw 3 red lights

The Knox County Health Department reported three “red lights” and a “yellow light” among its five weekly benchmarks on Wednesday.

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.

Benchmark No. 1, sustained reduction or stability in new cases for 14 days, was red after another week that saw “consecutive days of red flags and increase in cases,” according to Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental diseases at the Knox County Health Department.

Benchmark No. 2, community-wide sustained and increased diagnostic testing with consistent or decreased test result reporting turnaround time, was red as well. Menefee said the lag in lab results being returned to the Health Department is at up to 10 days or more as the demand for testing has increased.

A shortage in testing supplies is also causing a slowdown in results.

Menefee said KCHD is in the process of expanding its test result providers so that test results come back faster.

Benchmark No. 5, sustained or decreased COVID-19 related death rate for identified positive or probable cases, was also red after the ninth death among Knox County residents in the last two weeks. The “statistically significant” increase has resulted in the county death rate nearly tripling from 0.22% to 0.78%.

The latest deaths were a 94-year-old man on Tuesday and a 56-year-old man on Wednesday.

“There’s risk across the board,” Menefee said. “Obviously, there’s higher risk associated with some age groups and some comorbidities, but we are seeing a broad range of both hospitalizations and deaths.”

It is KCHD policy not to release any more information about death cases to protect the individual’s families. The reporting of the age and sex of the deceased is a new policy for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Benchmark No. 4, health care system capabilities remain within current and forecasted surge capacity, was given a yellow light as capacities continue to remain at high with hospitals moving closer to pre-COVID-19 operations. The 19 area hospitals in the 16 counties surrounding Knox County continue to meet more than once a week to discuss capacity issues.

Benchmark No. 3, sustained or increased public health capability, was set to green. KCHD has written a new contract with the Tennessee Department of Health to provide funding for additional epidemiology staff.

The staff of 140 members has contacted all positive or probable cases for contact tracing within 24 hours of receiving lab results since the beginning of the pandemic. Probable cases are contacted before lab results are received.

KCHD defines a probable positive case as a person who has had sustained contact with a lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 case and is showing symptoms of the virus. Probable cases can choose not to get tested but are quarantined.

Concerning data

While the death rate and positive case rate remain low in East Tennessee compared to the rest of the state and the nation, Menefee said it isn’t time to take the novel coronavirus lightly.

“We know that compared to other jurisdictions some of our metrics may look low, which is a good thing,” she said. “However, what we are concerned about is the rate at which our metrics are rising.”

“Increased cases today result in increased hospitalizations in a week or two and that will be followed by increased deaths. Given the rate at which things are increasing, when we think of what those numbers could be in the future we are very concerned.”

Menefee stress the five core actions of the Knox County Board of Health plan again.

They are:

  • 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.

Surge not coming from protests

Menefee says the recent surge has not come from protestors, according to the contact tracing information taken from positive cases.

“We know that there is risk associated with large groups, especially when you can’t social distance and you’re not wearing masks. I can’t give a reason why we haven’t seen (more protestors testing positive locally).

“If there was a lot of mask-wearing, I would think that would have had an impact on cases coming out of there.”

The Health Department contact tracers spend generally 20 to 30 minutes asking positive cases about their movement history and close contacts. Optimally a KCHD contact tracer can complete 10 interviews and a day along with follow-ups.

Complaints

Since July 6, three days after the Knox County mandatory mask requirement was put in place, the Health Department has taken 122 complaints about noncompliance in non-food-related businesses and 151 in food-related businesses. Nearly all complaints have been mask related.

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