Knox County Board of Health passes COVID-19 education resolution, calls core actions ‘vital’

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June 17 Knox County Board of Health meeting. (Photo via Community Television Knoxville live stream)

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Board of Health unanimously approved a recommendation resolution calling the body’s five core actions “vital for the Knox County public health, economy and the education of the children of Knox County” at its biweekly meeting Wednesday night.

The COVID-19 Community Education Recommendation goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, July 16. The resolution is a recommendation only.

In the two-hour meeting Dr. James E. Shamiyeh, senior vice-president and chief quality officer
of University Health System, Inc. that oversees the University of Tennessee Medical Center presented information to the board outlining prediction models and data collected from UT Hospital and the hospitals in counties surrounding Knox County.

Shamiyeh told the nine-member board that the community will likely be dealing with COVID-19 until a vaccine is provided.

“The cases we are diagnosing now are going to have an impact on the hospital infrastructure in three to four weeks,” he said.

“With widespread community transmission … staffing is going to be a challenge for us. … Economically that’s going to start impacting businesses more and more. … Health care is not the only industry that is going to have staffing issues.”

The board took over the local COVID-19 policy reins in June. The board of health voted 7-1 two weeks ago to mandate mask usage in indoor public places across the county.

Calling masks “the workhorse” of the five core actions, Shamiyeh said now is the time get the community support behind the principles before hospitals in the area have to increase patient capacities.

Shamiyah gave the example of educating the public about how the virus does not know county borders and the difference between family and household.

“Just because someone is a relative; if they don’t live in your house they are not your household contact,” he said. “There is nothing magical about someone being related to you (to keep from spreading the virus to each other).”

In some of the data he presented to the board, Shamiyeh said in the region, including Knox, Anderson, Blount, Grainger, Jefferson, Loudon, Roane and Union counties, it took 81 days to get to 1,000 positive COVID-19 cases. It took 17 days after that to reach 2,000 cases and just eight days after that to reach 3,000 cases.

With current trends, models are predicting with 99.7% certainty that 52 new hospitalizations will occur for every 1,000 new cases within the region.

“I don’t want to create an alarm, but I do want to be very realistic about what a surge looks like,” he said.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs called the data “pretty alarming.”

KCHD Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said it is a fine line to balance the impact of COVID-19 on the health care industry and the economy and said it will take “vigilance as a community” to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

When asked how long it would take to see the effects mask usage would take on mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Buchanan said it would take probably two incubation cycles, or 28 days, to see a definitive change.

Other items on the agenda include a general update from the Health Department, a staffing and operations update and a benchmark presentation.

Earlier Wednesday, the Knox County Health Department released its benchmarks with three of its five points meeting “red light” standards. A red light “signifies the trends are not moving towards benchmark attainment and may indicate adjustments need to be made.”

This is a developing story. We will provide you more information as we receive it.

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