SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Sevier County is known around the world for its scenic beauty, hospitality, family-oriented attractions, and outdoor adventure. The area is accustomed to being recognized in national publications for breaking tourism records, with millions of visitors planning trips to the mountains every year. Now the travel destination is being recognized for spikes in new COVID-19 cases.

The New York Times is compiling data from various parts of the country, such as number of cases, deaths, and rates of increases to determine the scope of the outbreak. Their findings, last updated Wednesday as of this story’s posting, list Sevier County as fourth, nationally, for the highest average daily growth rate of cases. The publication also cites the county’s daily growth rate at 8%, and case doubling time at nine days.

On June 7, the Tennessee Department of Health reported 110 confirmed or probable positive cases of COVID-19 in Sevier County. 10 days later, they reported 297. That’s a jump of 270%. The next day, June 18, the state reported 342 cases. That’s a 310% increase from June 7.

On Friday, the case count grew by another 45 cases, leaving the current total at 387.

Tracy Vance holds a genuine fear she could die from the virus.

Recent spikes inspired her to reach out to our newsroom, as she fears too many people aren’t taking recommended guidelines seriously. Her two children live at home and have jobs working with the public. When she takes them to and from work, she says she notices no one wearing masks and a lack of social distancing.

Vance says she has chronic lung disease and doctors have told her a battled with COVID-19 would be “touch and go,” and due to the condition of her lungs, she may even be ineligible for a ventilator. “Nobody is wearing masks and people are getting mad when they’re asked to wear masks. To me, it’s disconcerting that nobody cares enough about anybody else to do something to prevent dying,” she said.

She’s also given thought to would follow, if she died from the virus.

“What’s it going to do to my family? What are they going to do knowing they brought it home? They’re protecting themselves, but other people aren’t,” she said.

Her plea is to the public, business community, and local leaders to do more to slow the spread of the novel virus.

“The state of Tennessee has reopened for business after the initial shutdown due to COVID-19. An increase in positive COVID-19 tests was inevitable as more people were tested, and tourists returned. City and county leaders do not have the authority to shut down businesses, require face masks, or prevent tourists from visiting. Local elected officials, heads of tourism organizations, and health department leaders continue to work together to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We continue to urge everyone to get tested and follow the Tennessee Pledge and CDC guidelines. Everyone must do their part to make our community safer.”

Perrin Anderson
Sevier County Assistant Mayor for Governmental Affairs

Pigeon Forge Mayor, David Wear, pointed out Friday the county is following the Tennessee Pledge, a reopening plan that details a timeline for 89 of the state’s 95 counties. Major metropolitan areas, such as Knox County, are developed locally; however, in two weeks’ time Knox County will follow the Tennessee Pledge.

“We are not privy to detailed information that maybe some healthcare officials are able to take advantage of,” Wear said. “It’s unclear to us where the outbreaks are happening, where the issues are. Not knowing that, it’s very difficult for us to have any kind of response to the increase in cases.”

While he said they can do very little without some of those details, he also acknowledged there’s very little they can do without the authority.

For now, he said, locally, they will continue posting guidelines, making recommendations, and encouraging people to be cautious.

Despite the recent spikes, Wear said he continues to see an enormous amount of personal responsibility in the area.

“We know this has not gone away. We know there have been some breaks in the news cycle,” he said. People may have shifted their focus. It’s time to refocus on this pandemic and take care of your loved-ones as best you can.”

Friday night, WATE 6 On Your Side received the following statement from the Tennessee Department of Health:

Our county and regional health department teams are in frequent communication with other local leaders in communities across the state in order to provide guidance and resources for protecting people’s health. Tennessee’s Unified Command Group and Economic Recovery Group have provided guidance to communities and organizations, and continue to do so as the situation evolves.

Shelley Walker
Director of Communication, TN Dept. of Health