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Roundup: KCHD Emphasizes Active Cases; State Studies Antibody Tests

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File Photo/KCHD
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KCHD will increase public focus on active COVID cases

The Knox County Health Department’s website is updated daily to reflect available information about COVID-19 cases. Beginning immediately, the department will emphasize new cases, not cumulative case totals.

At the beginning of a pandemic, cumulative cases and new cases are similar numbers because of the short timeframe that has passed, the health department said in a planning document. As time goes on, cumulative case statistics continue to grow, creating a mistaken impression about the disease’s effects in the community.

KCHD said active case counts are a more accurate way to look at the novel coronavirus’ effects. Knox County had 29 active cases as of Monday's update.

The case counts are updated daily at the Knox County Health Department’s special COVID-19 website. The Tennessee Health Department does not explicitly provide active case counts, but the number can be deduced by subtracting the number of recovered cases from the cumulative count.

As always, this reminder: case counts reflect only the data available at the time the report is generated. Because of lags in processing tests and a relatively limited data set on asymptomatic cases, the numbers may be several days behind the virus’ spread.

State evaluating antibody testing

The now-familiar PCR “swab” tests that 150,000 Tennesseans have been given can tell only if someone has an active COVID-19 case, or had the virus very recently. It cannot determine whether someone had a case earlier on and has recovered. This information may be especially important in logging asymptomatic COVID cases and understanding their proportions in Tennessee.

To get a better handle on those cases, state health officials are studying the feasibility of serological antibody tests. Those screenings could show whether a person’s blood contains antibodies unique to fighting a COVID-19 infection. The presence of those antibodies, it is believed, would show whether a person had a COVID case and recovered.

The problem, health officials pointed out in a press release Monday, is that serological testing for COVID-19 antibodies is still very much in its infancy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved six kinds of antibody test kits, but none of them have been validated. Some of them could be fooled by the presence of other kinds of coronavirus antibodies (such as those that fight the common cold) and return a false positive result.

The Tennessee Department of Health will distribute a technical brief to health care providers in Tennessee with details about antibody testing and its limitations, the state said Monday. TDH is also working on a plan to test of up 10,000 health care workers in Tennessee’s public teaching hospitals.

“Swab” tests continue apace

The Knox County Health Department tested 520 people at Knoxville’s Civic Coliseum parking garage Saturday. The mass testing event was aimed at reaching people in East Knoxville, a part of the city that had very little COVID test data until now.

More than 7,000 Tennesseans got tested at 18 sites across the state this past weekend, the governor’s office reported Monday.

“We’re grateful to the thousands of Tennesseans who came out to get tested, and we’re incredibly thankful for the efforts of our Department of Health and National Guard personnel for making these testing sites a reality,” Gov. Bill Lee said.

The state health department plans to continue its mobile testing effort into early May.

“As Tennesseans begin the process of returning to work, we strongly encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities to get a test and help us mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey.

Tennessee sees greatest one-day spike in new cases

The Tennessee Department of Health reported 478 newly-confirmed cases of COVID-19 Sunday, the largest single-day increase since the state’s first case was confirmed in Williamson County March 5.

The sharp rise may be a reflection of more intensive and widespread efforts to test Tennessee’s population for the respiratory virus. In the last two weeks, state and local health departments have put on mobile and stationary testing events that have drawn thousands of Tennesseans.

The state health department’s Monday summary reported 5,198 people have active COVID cases, 4,720 have recovered, 837 have been hospitalized, and 184 have died. The numbers are not a snapshot of the current state of the illness in Tennessee; official statistics may lag several days as test results come in.