The Knox County Board of Health voted Wednesday night to the extend bar curfew order it adopted about two weeks ago. Bars must continue to close by 10 p.m.
The bar curfew order will be up for review again on Sept. 3. The board had previously closed all bars in the county but quickly backtracked by instead imposing just a curfew.
The extension passed 7-1 with only Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs voting in opposition.
Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan mentioned that was too soon to see if the bar curfew order had any effect due to the incubation cycle of COVID-19. There is a the lag between the emergence of new cases and their detection by the public health system.
Jacobs said that as far as he was aware, the business community was fine with the current regulations.
“Overall we’re content that we moved from a closure order to a curfew,” he said. “Obviously we are all hoping to get back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Wednesday marked the first day since late May that the Knox County Health Department had no “red” benchmarks after new cases and deaths slowed down. But university and school reopenings loom large.
“There are undeniable trends in the data, this is exactly where we would want to be as we embark on schools,” said board member Dr. James Shamiyeh, explaining why he supported upholding the mask order and other public health measures.
“I view this as cause-effect. If it’s working we need to keep doing it,” he continued.
Case growth was rated yellow after two weeks of comparatively modest case growth following a bad July. Hospital capacity remained yellow, where it has often hovered during the pandemic. New deaths were downgraded to yellow after a week of steady increase but no statistically significant spikes.
Testing capacity and contact tracing capability remained green.
“Our benchmarks have maintained or improved over the last week,” said board member Dr. Jack Goutcher. “We’d like to see everything green but that’s probably not going to happen soon.”
Shamiyeh presented information about the county’s health systems that echoed the Health Department’s benchmarks.
“It’s not the same degree of drop that we’ve seen in the last week,” he said. “But it (new cases) is still dropping instead of going upward.”
Shamiyeh predicted that August would probably look a lot like July in terms of total hospitalizations in the Knoxville hospital district.
Many members of the Board of Health emphasized that it is far too early to say that COVID-19 is in decline.
“The thing I want people to hear is that COVID is not going away,” said Buchanan.