Coronavirus in Tennessee: Knox County Health Department issues first red light on reopening benchmark

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department reported eight new COVID-19 cases on Friday, to bring the county’s case total to 375.

Knox County reported 49 active cases on Friday, up from 47 on Thursday. 

Six new recovered cases were reported. The total number of recoveries is now 321. Recovered cases refer to those who have been released from isolation after seven days from their onset of symptoms, plus 72 hours of being symptom-free. Recovered does not mean necessarily the person had to be hospitalized.

There are three Knox County COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, up from two on Thursday. There have been five total deaths in Knox County from COVID-19.

Of the 375 cases, 41 of them have resulted in hospitalization at any point during the illness. There are 11 probable cases of COVID-19 listed on the county information page.

The Knox County Health Department updates its numbers daily at 11 a.m. Visit covid.knoxcountytn.gov for more information.

First benchmark gets red light

The Knox County Health Department gave out its first benchmark “red light” on Friday after three days of increases in the number of new positive cases this week. The lights visually represent how the benchmarks are being attained.

 Red signifies the trends are not moving towards benchmark attainment and may indicate mid-phase 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 benchmark that was changed — sustained reduction or stability in new cases for 14 days — takes the last 14 days’ average of cases into consideration. A red light for this specific benchmark is given after three-day shifts detect above 3.0 standard deviations, according to the Health Department website.

“A statistically significant increase in new cases will require a full assessment of the current situation and other benchmarks,” the website states. “It may mean we need to make mid-phase adjustments or even mean we need to revert to an earlier phase of opening. Certain increases, such as a significant increase in new cases over the course of five days, would be a cause for thorough review.”

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness for the Knox County Health Department, said it is important to put the positive COVID-19 cases in perspective since the largest one-day increase was 14 new patients.

“While this is an increase in what we’ve been seeing, it is still a relatively low number,” she said. “That means we are continuing to respond effectively. As we mentioned, that we would be doing we have brought in additional KCHD team members in an effort to be prepared to effectively complete investigations and contact tracing.”

Menefee said the increase in new cases could be happening for a variety of reasons. New clusters forming, more people going out to shops and restaurants, and increased testing can contribute to the increase.

Expansion of contact tracing staff

The contact tracing staff is expanding to be prepared for the possible increase in positive and probable COVID-19 cases. Four members of the Health Department were shifted to contact tracing duties to bring the total to 35.

Two are trained in contact tracing and work with the epidemiologists already. The other two have been brought in from other parts of the staff and been trained in contact tracing.

Details given on regional hospital cases

The fourth benchmark being used in the Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan dealing with health care system capabilities had an uptick in cases for the third straight week before declining by the end of the week. The benchmark uses data from 19 regional hospitals given to the state to show how many COVID-19 patients they have, how many are in intensive care, and how many are using ventilators.

Ten patients were the most seen at any time this week in the combined regional hospitals. Six was the most seen at one point in ICU and three was the most on a ventilator.

“These are low numbers and for that we are very thankful,” Menefee said. “The decision to keep this traffic light green came after talking with hospital partners and getting their input, as well as taking all of the data into consideration.”

Menefee said no one benchmark carries more weight than the other and the full picture is needed to decide how the reopening process is going.

“We really look at all the benchmarks together … and they all really intertwine together,” she said. “So we want to make sure that we are able to, on the public health side, effectively respond to the cases that we’re getting, do it in a timely manner, and follow up with contacts and all the things that come with that.

“We want to also make sure that our hospitals are able to take care of the burden of patients that might come in due to increases as well.”

Notes

Since May 1, KCHD has received 273 complaints about businesses not following guidelines. Menefee said the majority the complaints are for restaurants. The department checks with staff and educates them on the current guidelines once a complaint is made.

A complaint can be made by calling the Knoxville 311 Center for Service Innovation. Call 311 or 865-215-4311 if outside the Knoxville area. You can also send an email to 311office@knoxvilletn.gov.

The Health Department continues to stress that COVID-19 is not gone.

“This hasn’t gone away, but we’ve been successful in this community and we’re very, very grateful for that,” she said. “We have had people who have been impacted by this. We have had deaths. We have had people who’ve spent time in the hospital. … We don’t want it to grow. We want to do everything we can to keep things as level as possible so that we don’t see spikes (in cases).”

The state released summer camp and noncontact sports guidelines Thursday. The Knox County Health Department announced similar plans as part of their phase 2 reopening guide but there are a few differences.

Menefee suggests camp directors and coaches read the Knox County plan and be aware that changes may come based on the state’s guidelines.

Change to briefings

The Health Department is making a change to its press briefings. The five-day-a-week briefings will be cut to three. They will be held at 12:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday next week.

“This shift is being done to be judicious with our time while also moving toward the ability to offer more individualized and specific interview requests,” “For the general public with questions, we continue to recommend that you call our public information line at 865-215-5555.”

The Health Department also announced Thursday it would change COVID-19 testing locations. The drive-thru testing is being shifted to the department’s main office and be changed to a walk-in format.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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