‘Worrisome and tragic’ Knox County Health Department issues stark warning about holiday gatherings

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Director said level of concern about holiday gatherings is 'an 8 or 9 out of 10'

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — With new cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 hitting record highs in the last few days among Knox County residents, the Health Department put out a familiar and earnest plea Tuesday ahead of the upcoming holidays: Follow the five core actions.

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness of the Knox County Health Department, said trends have shown spikes in new COVID-19 cases about two weeks after a holiday. However, with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s coming in short sequence, there may not be enough time between them to see the normal drop in cases.

A graph from the Knox County Health Department showing spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases per day following holidays.

“I know you’re tired of hearing it and I’m tired of saying it, but I’m coming to you today pleading to please take these actions seriously,” Menefee said. “These trends are worrisome and tragic.

“There’s not going to be time for the cases to come back down by the time we have our next holiday. … If nothing about our behavior changes, these numbers will continue to rise at a high rate.”

Menefee said her worry is at “about an eight or nine” out of 10 when asked to rate the Knox County situation.

“We’re all connected in some way, shape or form.”

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease & emergency preparedness
Knox County Health Department

“We’re at the point where it’s time to consider whether hosting a small gathering at your home for the holidays is the appropriate decision to make for yourself and your family to keep them safe while also considering the implications that hosting this gathering could have on those you come in contact here in the future,” she said.

“If you cannot physically distance everybody in that gathering, then you really need to think about if you’re going to do it.”

KCHD using state to help with contact tracing

The Knox County Health Department is now using the state to help with some contact tracing of positive COVID-19 cases. As more cases occur, more contact tracing is being done each day.

Menefee said, as an example, that if 400 people are positive with the coronavirus, they would likely have three or four close contacts just in their homes. That would not include co-workers, friends and acquaintances in social settings.

She also noted that the state reported nearly 8,000 new cases on Monday, which means approximately 30,000 close contacts would need to be contacted.

“If you know you’re positive or have been exposed to a confirmed case, don’t wait ’til you get a call from us or somebody from the Tennessee Department of Health, start your quarantine now.” Menefee said.

Testing next week

Testing at the Knox County Health Department will be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday of next week. The Health Department will not be testing Thursday and Friday. Testing sites can be found on the Knox County Health Department website.

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