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Roundup: What the Heat Map Tells Us; Officials Face Decisions on Extending Orders

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Knox County Health Department
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Decision time for stay-at-home orders

Gov. Bill Lee will have to decide by Tuesday whether to extend the stay-at-home order he issued April 2.

Elected officials across the state are divided, some antsy to get businesses re-opened, others cautioning that trying to bounce back too soon could lead to surge in COVID-19 cases.

The disagreement is not always drawn along partisan lines: State Rep. Jason Zachary, whose district includes Farragut in western Knox County, said on Twitter Saturday that the time has come to slowly re-open businesses. State Sen. Richard Briggs, who is also a doctor, said last week public health might be imperiled by trying to resume ordinary economic activity too soon. Both are Republicans.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon plans to extend the city’s stay-at-home order and established health criteria for relaxing the order: two weeks of lower case numbers, sufficient space to treat all cases that require hospitalization, and widespread access to testing.

The Knox County Health Department says it’s working expand testing supplies and availability. So far, KCHD reports 3,587 Knox Countians have been tested, about 0.8 percent of the county’s total population. KCHD Director Martha Buchanan reiterated the importance and value of physical distancing and limited travel to blunt the effects of COVID-19.

“I’ve been in conversation with Mayor Jacobs, and we plant wait to see what the governor announces,” Buchanan said at midday Monday. Buchanan said she and Jacobs agree the county is “not quite ready” to come out of restrictions on physical distancing and travel.

Knox County heat map tells part of the story, highlights questions unanswered

A “heat map” plotting COVID cases by zip code in Knox County went live Friday. It shows the greatest concentration of cases so far is in southern and western parts of the county, in areas that include Bearden, Hardin Valley, Cedar Bluff and South Knoxville. But Knox County Health Department Director Martha Buchanan cautioned reading too much into the map.

“What we can infer from that is, there are definitely confirmed cases in those zip codes,” Buchanan said at a Monday briefing. “What we don’t know is testing availability throughout the county and in other zip codes.”

The numbers are by default incomplete, and rely on the number of tests performed as well as actual disease incidence. Buchanan encouraged health care providers around the county to make testing more widely available so a more comprehensive picture can be constructed. County health officials say they plan to update the case map each Friday.

Prison staffers test positive, but showed no symptoms

An intensive single-day testing blitz at two state prisons turned up nineteen cases of COVID-19. All were among prison staff or contractors, and none showed any obvious signs of the illness.

More than 1,100 state employees and contract workers at Northwest Correctional Complex in West Tennessee and Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in East Tennessee were tested Friday, April 10. Inmates are tested on the basis of presenting symptoms, a potential weakness underscored by the asymptomatic cases confirmed among the staffers. So far, three state prison inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. They were not housed at the two prisons tested Friday.

State corrections officials say most in-prison activities, such as educational programs, continue. Hand sanitizers and soap are available to all inmates, and frequently-touched surfaces are disinfected multiple times a day. While some inmate work crews are still performing off-campus services, such as trash pickup, those inmates are screened before re-entering the prison.

Grant program for jazz artists opens

A program aimed at helping offset economic losses for jazz musicians is accepting applications.

The grant effort from South Arts is aimed at freelance jazz artists “who have lost significant income due to COVID-19” from cancelled gigs in March, April and May of this year. The program will award $1,000 grants to selected artists until funds run out. Its initial pool of money is $300,000 from two philanthropic foundations.

Applications will be reviewed in the order in which they are received. Highest priority will go to the artists who have faced the most significant, damaging losses due to COVID-19 pandemic response cancellations, a press release said.

“The final grant pool, however, will reflect Jazz Road goals such as diversity and intersectionality in multiple areas including geographic, gender, race/ethnicity, age, disability, etc., as well as reach artists located in more rural, isolated areas,” the release said. “There will also be a priority to support artists who represent the African-American community as well as those who identify as women.”