The Knox County Health Department issued a message today during their regular COVID-19 press conference: While the most recent data looks good, this is not yet a cause to celebrate. The pandemic is still ongoing.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Director of Emergency Preparedness Charity Menefee during a press conference Tuesday. “Do we know for certain that this is a trend that’s going to continue? We don’t at this point.
“Don’t take your foot off the gas just because we’re seeing some positive data,” she urged.
The Knox County Health Department reported that they had not seen “red flag days” of case growth within the past six days. Yet they had seen three solid days of statistically significant increases within the past two weeks. Because COVID-19’s incubation cycle is two weeks long, it’s impossible to say at this point whether that recent lull represents an actual trend.
The news came as part of the department’s weekly COVID-19 benchmark update press conference. 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 majority of the benchmarks remained the same this week. New case counts and deaths remained red, where they were for the entire month of July. Regional hospital capacity remained yellow, where it has been for several weeks. Contact tracing capability remained green, where it has been for the entire pandemic.
Testing was upgraded from yellow to green. The health department has noticed a decrease in local test turnaround time. They say this is partially attributable to partnering with a new lab to run tests on their behalf.
“We are working with a new lab for internal testing and are seeing improvements and getting results much quicker,” said Menefee. She explained that the department’s tests were beginning to return within 48 hours of administration.
This benchmark does not account for regional testing delays, however, only the testing that Knox County is able to monitor. Regionally, many people have reported testing delays, which interferes with contact tracing.
University of Tennessee Medical Officer Dr. Keith Gray attended the press conference to provide an update from regional hospitals. Local hospitals have reported an overall slowing of hospitalizations.
“We’ve seen a positive improvement in the last 10 days,” said Gray. “However, we cannot drop our guard.”
The news comes after a solid month of worsening COVID-19 data. Over the month of July, 2,834 cases were detected in Knox County. That is more than 65% of the total cases during the entire pandemic and more than five times the number of cases detected in June. Almost a quarter of all cases were detected in the last week of July, and 26 out of the 40 deaths from COVID-19 occurred in July.
Dr. Gray concluded with a request: He asked that recovered COVID-19 patients and others consider “convalescent plasma donation” or platelet donation, respectively.
“The capacity of platelets and COVID-convalescent plasma are extremely low.” he said.
COVID-convalescent plasma is currently being used as an experimental treatment for COVID-19. University of Tennessee Medical Center began participating in a national trial on May 14.
Plasma is the liquid portion of blood. It contains proteins, salts and enzymes to help the body’s blood pressure and volume stable. It also contains antibodies and proteins that the immune system uses to fight diseases. Scientists hope those antibodies might help patients fight COVID-19.
Recovered COVID-19 patients or people seeking to donate platelets can call the MEDIC Regional Blood Center at 865-524-3074 or 865-512-6548 to schedule a donation appointment.