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Roundup: Knox Case Counts Continue to Rise; Lee Orders Nursing Home Tests

Knox case counts continue to climb*

A lull in new COVID-19 cases in Knox County ended in late May, and the pattern is continuing into June.

110 new cases have been confirmed since May 22, according to data from the Knox County Health Department. Twenty-three of them were announced Tuesday. It’s important to note the case counts are not up-to-the minute because of the incubation period of the novel coronavirus and the turnaround time for processing tests. The health department says 93 cases were active as of Tuesday. One person is currently listed as hospitalized.

The increase that began in late May is considered statistically significant, but is not enough to change the county’s immediate plans for re-opening businesses and resuming social and recreational activities.

"The increase in new cases is concerning, but it’s important to remember that we did expect to see an increase as our community continues to reopen," the Knox County Health Department said in response to WUOT's request for comment.

There could be several reasons for the case increase, the health department said, including more opportunities for testing, increased social contact in the community and localized concentrations of cases called "clusters." The health department says it is currently studying several clusters that range from businesses to social gatherings.

"We want to emphasize that identifying clusters is something we expect to do and is a standard part of the public health response. We will continue to work to identify new cases and reach out to close contacts," KCHD said.

"Through our investigations of cases and clusters, we have often found that the ‘Five Core Actions’ haven’t been consistently followed," the department said. "This trend applies across all demographics for our cases and is one of the reasons why we continue to stress the importance following ALL of the measures."

  • Physical distancing
  • Wearing a cloth face covering
  • Washing your hands
  • Sanitizing surfaces
  • Staying home when you are sick/told to quarantine

Knox County’s five “traffic light” benchmarks for progress were updated Friday, May 29. The case count benchmark was moved from “green” to “red,” reflecting the shift in new cases. But all other metrics remained “green,” including turnaround time on COVID testing, tests administered and the capability of local hospitals to handle cases that need substantial medical treatment.
* - This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. ET to include comments from the Knox County Health Department.

Lee orders testing at nursing homes

Gov. Bill Lee has changed his request for COVID-19 testing at nursing homes to an order. Scheduling delays, a lack of testing material and short-handed staffs caused senior care facilities to fall short of Lee’s goal of testing at the state’s 700 nursing homes by the end of May. About 60 percent did so.

Under the revised order, nursing homes will be required to test patients and staff. The order extends the previous deadline to June 30. Lee says trained National Guard members will help fill staffing shortages to get the testing done.

Older people are considered at high risk for complications from the novel coronavirus. Two COVID-19 clusters at nursing homes in Gallatin and Athens have resulted in nearly forty deaths.

Anderson County Fair cancelled

The board that plans and oversees the Anderson County Fair says the annual event will not take place this summer.

Fair president Steve Queener said Monday maintaining social distancing would be very difficult, if not impossible. The same concern scuttled the Greene County Fair this year. Queener said the Anderson fair would return in the summer of 2021.

The 2020 Grainger County Tomato Festival in Rutledge was cancelled May 31. The Loudon County Fair has also been cancelled. As of Tuesday morning, fairs in Jefferson County (early August) and Sevier County (late August) are still on. Organizers say the annual Tennessee Valley Fair is still scheduled to take place at Knoxville’s Chilhowee Park in September.