Roundup: Knox County Sees Record Spike in COVID Cases; UT to Mandate Flu Vaccine
Thursday marked the highest daily increase with 39 new cases
There was a 28% increase in new COVID cases in Knox County since last Friday. Three days this week subsequently marked the largest daily increase in new case counts since the start of the pandemic.
“As you go about your daily life in Knox County, you are at risk of contacting COVID-19 no matter where you are or who you are,” County Health director Martha Buchanan said. “The virus is still very present in the community.”
Buchanan said that she hasn’t seen any evidence of cases connected to recent protests and that the majority of new cases aren’t connected to clusters — a shift mirroring statewide trends. Tennessee's Health Commissioner, Lisa Piercey, said Wednesday at least half of the state’s cases reported no known contact with an infected person.
The spike in Knox County comes just days before the county moves from its custom reopening plan to the state’s guidance, the Tennessee Pledge. The transition on July 1 will remove the requirement for customer-facing businesses to require employees to wear masks. The Board of Health will meet on Wednesday July 1 to consider the newest data and reopening plans; Buchanan said she does not believe an emergency meeting is needed.
Free COVID-19 testing regardless of symptoms is available at the Knox County Health Department Monday through Thursday next week, but Buchanan said those seeking testing should plan for wait times of up to an hour and a half.
Additional federal unemployment assistance to end in four weeks
Pandemic unemployment assistance, a federal program intended to keep workers at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, will end on July 25 in Tennessee. The funding provides anyone receiving unemployment payments an additional $600 a week in federal funds. State unemployment assistance alone provides a weekly maximum of $275.
CARES Act funding for pandemic unemployment insurance expires nationwide on Friday, July 31. But due to Tennessee’s unemployment distribution schedule, which calculates the week's end on Saturday, the state will discontinue the supplemental federal assistance on Friday, July 25.
Sevier County saw the highest unemployment rate statewide in May at 18.5%, down from 29% in April. The number of new unemployment claims has fallen since April, but remains at ten times the weekly average before the pandemic started. 21,000 thousand people filed new unemployment claims last week.
UT’s Board of Trustees approves in-person instruction for Fall 2020
The Board of Trustees added an emergency rule Friday that requires all students to get a flu vaccine, and a COVID-19 vaccine if and when one becomes available. Additionally, a signed resolution regarding the fall semester requires masks in classrooms, suspends international travel and ends in-person classes in November.
At the university's flagship campus in Knoxville, there will be a mix of in-person, online and hybrid classes to enforce physical distancing. Chancellor Donde Plowman said Thursday these plans could change once the semester starts depending on the course of the virus.
For the first time in the university’s history, there will be no tuition increase for the 2020 – 2021 school year across all campuses. The UT system has received $35.6 million in federal funding from the CARES Act, about half of the university's reported losses due to the pandemic.