Knox County Health Dept. Director Buchanan concerned about County Commission’s resolution limiting Board of Health’s powers

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Board of Health member and Health Department Director Martha Buchanan defended both bodies during its media update on the county’s COVID-19 numbers on Tuesday.

County Commissioners Justin Biggs and Kyle Ward have co-sponsored a resolution to limit the board’s power. Those powers were discussed at length during the public forum portion of Monday night’s commission workshop.

County Commission moved the resolution forward without recommendation to next week. That means everyone agrees it needs more discussion, and it gives the commission some time to vet it out and make adjustments before taking a vote, which is planned for next week.

Buchanan said she read the resolution Tuesday morning for the first time.

“I know that the Board of Health and the commission both really want to do the right thing for the community. They have different ideas about what that looks like.

I trust the Board of Health’s expertise. I trust my staff’s expertise and our years of experience in controlling infections on a much smaller scale than COVID, but I also understand that people are concerned about the direction that this has taken.”

Dr. Buchanan

Buchanan said taking the powers away today may also impact the Health Department and the Board of Health can contend with future outbreaks.

“We do this on a much smaller scale every day. We’ve been doing it for years and taking that away from the folks who have expertise is concerning.”

Dr. Buchanan

Changing science, data

With more information coming out each day on the novel coronavirus, Buchanan addressed some of the changing thought processes when it comes to the virus’s spread.

Questions have been raised about what constitutes a close contact and how water droplets carry the virus.

“How you get the virus hasn’t changed,” Buchanan said. “You breathe it out and you breathe it in.”

She explained water droplets from a person’s speech can vary in size and less is known about COVID-19’s spread when it comes to the smaller droplets and aerosol spread.

“More information is to come,” Buchanan said.

The CDC’s latest guideline is staying within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes makes you a close contact. Buchanan also said “quality of contact” is as important in the virus’s spread as the length of contact.

For example, speaking to someone in close quarters and the constant interchanging of space, like moving in and out of rooms with a positive case in a home, are situations that people should be conscious of.

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