The Knox County Health Department’s benchmarks – the visual aid representing the community’s status on the coronavirus pandemic – are mostly green for the first time since mid-July.
The benchmarks tracking statistically significant increases in new cases and deaths, was downgraded to green for “good.” The only benchmark remaining at “yellow” for caution was hospital capacity, which has remained yellow through most of July and August.
Contact tracing and testing capacity remain green.
This is good news, but it comes at an uncertain time.
The Knox County Board of Health meets Wednesday night but the agenda lists no concrete action items beyond hearing updates from the Knox County Health Department and the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
The meeting comes a week after the University of Tennessee’s classes resumed on Aug. 19 and the same week that Knox County Schools opened for the new school year. The administrations of both the university and county schools have faced criticism from parents, students and faculty about their reopening plans.
Cases of COVID-19 were detected at three different Knox County schools. Cases at the university have increased from 25 to 134 between student move-in day Aug. 9 and Wednesday.
More than 200 university faculty and staff signed an open letter to the Knox County Health Department urging members to ask the university to move classes online. This letter was shared with the Board of Health but a discussion of the letter is not on the agenda.
“The letter was shared with the Board of Health,” said Charity Menefee, director of emergency preparedness for the health department said at a press conference Tuesday. “The Board of Health will continue looking at the situation in what is happening in the area and continue to make recommendations as they see appropriate.”
Knox News wrote to several members of the board for comment on the letter, but none have replied.
The Knox County Health Department has been actively collecting COVID-19 epidemiological data throughout the pandemic. The department uses this data to judge how Knox County is doing during the pandemic, comparing progress week-to-week. The county uses a traffic light rating system — green for good, yellow for caution and red for worrisome — to measure new cases, testing, contact tracing capability, regional hospital capacity and deaths. The hospital capacity benchmark is set with input from regional hospitals.
Last week and the week before the benchmarks showed modest signs of progress. The last update was the first time the county was without a red light since May 29. Board members and department officials have said that they were encouraged by these signs of progress but cautioned that this was nothing to celebrate yet.
“While we are encouraged with the lower number of cases that we are seeing we cannot take our foot off the gas,” said Menefee in a press conference.
“Please continue to practice all of the five core actions in every situation.” she asked, including hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks.