Coronavirus in Tennessee: Testing slow down continues to worry Knox County Health Dept.

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The lack of Knox County residents getting tested for the coronavirus is worrying the Health Department.

Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan and Director of Communicable and Environmental Disease and Emergency Preparedness Charity Menefee stressed the need for people to get tested if they feel sick.

“Testing is just really one of the most invaluable tools we have for pandemic control or mitigation,” Menefee said.

“Having a sufficient amount of testing allows us to then identify positives that may or may or may not know they were asymptomatic (or) may or may not know they are positive and then contact trace on that.”

“We risk people having not knowing they have it and making other people sick,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan was asked about giving an incentive to entice more people to get tested.

“I think wanting to know about your own health should be an incentive; wanting to know so you can protect others, I think, would be an incentive,” she said.

Buchanan also said that changing testing hours in the past has proven ineffective in improving testing rates. There is no testing this Friday, Sept. 24.

Testing this coming week will be moved to the Health Department’s main office at 140 Dameron Ave. Testing will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Menefee said lack of testing could have consequences on hospital capacity overall. The more the virus is spread in public unknowingly, the more likely a surge will occur, which could strain hospital resources.

“There’s dominos that fall based on not knowing and disease spreading in the community more than it is already at this point and that is what we are really trying to prevent,” Menefee said.

Video fallout

During Wednesday night’s Knox County Board of Health meeting a film from the group Freedom Forward that was narrated by Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs drew criticism from board members.

Menefee called the video “disheartening” during KCHD’s Thursday media briefing and said department staff members had come to her worried about their jobs.

Menefee said her staff was just doing their jobs to protect the community. Buchanan, a member of the Board of Health, echoed the sentiments.

“The Board of Health is our board and those images and the words that were used really were challenging to hear,” Buchanan said. “Of course, everyone is entitled to express their opinion and have their own opinions, and we respect that.”

Benchmarks review

The Health Department released its updated benchmarks on Wednesday. KCHD gave out four “yellow” lights and one “green” 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.

Benchmark No. 1 Sustained reduction or stability in new cases for 14 days. YELLOW

Menefee said this benchmark is “trending in the right direction.” As of Wednesday, Knox County is averaging 116 new cases per day.

Benchmark No. 2 Community-wide sustained and increased diagnostic testing with consistent or decreased test result reporting turnaround time. YELLOW

The average turnaround time for testing results is around two days, according to Menefee. The Health Department is continuing to monitor the recent trend of fewer people getting tested. During the last two weeks, KCHD has averaged 562 tests given per day.

The Tennessee Department of Health is reporting that over the last seven days the percent positive rate of tested individuals across the state is 8.2%.

Benchmark No. 3 Sustained or increased public health capability. GREEN

Nearly all, 99.6%, of new case investigations have been initiated within 24 hours of notification to date. All close contact investigations have been initiated within 48 hours of notification according to KCHD. The epidemiology staff has been increased in size. There are now 237 team members.

Benchmark No. 4 Health care system capabilities remain within current and forecasted surge capacity. YELLOW

The decision on how to represent this benchmark is made with input from area hospital systems.

Benchmark No. 5 Sustained or decreased COVID-19 related death rate for identified positive or probable cases. YELLOW

Nine Knox County residents have died during the last two weeks.

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