No red lights: Knox County’s COVID-19 benchmarks are mostly yellow

The Knox County Health Department’s benchmarks – the visual aid representing the community’s status on the coronavirus pandemic – have no red lights for the first time since cases surged this summer. 

Since May 29th, at least one benchmark has been rated red. This was most often due to new cases. 

The last red warning benchmark, representing statistically significant increases in deaths, was downgraded to yellow. In addition to deaths, new cases and hospitalizations were rated yellow this week. That means three out of the five benchmarks are rated yellow for “caution.” 

Contact tracing and testing capacity remain green.

The update comes ahead of the Knox County Board of Health meeting Wednesday evening. The board will review the public mask order that it passed early in July. 

It’s good news, but health officials warn things can quickly change. 

Classes resumed Wednesday at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The university reported that it has detected 89 cases of COVID-19 among students and 8 cases among university employees. 355 people are in mandatory self-isolation pending test results, active symptoms or due to close contact with a case. 

University contact tracers said they had tracked a cluster of COVID-19 cases to an off-campus party. 

Knox County Schools also are due to resume in-person classes Monday.

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, the department’s benchmarks showed modest signs of improvement. The benchmarks tracking new cases was downgraded to yellow, reflecting a modest dip in new cases. Over the previous month, new cases had sharply and steadily increased. 

Regional hospitalization remained at yellow. Contact tracing capability and testing capacity did not change last week. Only deaths were remained rated red last week. 

Health department officials have repeatedly emphasized cautious optimism. In a press conference Tuesday, Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said that while masks, hand washing and physical distancing were probably helping, it is far too soon to celebrate. 

“Now is not the time to go ‘Boom! We did a good job. We’re done!’ Because those cases can go straight back up,” Buchanan said.


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