COVID-19: Updates for 3/27/20 Including Health Department Briefing

Scenes from Downtown During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Knoxville, March 2020

Hello everyone in social distance land. I hope you are continuing to stay as safe as possible and to limit the risk to yourself and those you love as much as is possible. There is no 100% safe, but we can greatly reduce spread by simply following guidelines and being careful. Be thankful for the sunshine when it pops through, get some sun on your skin, but don’t be fooled into thinking gatherings are now ok.

As before, we’ll start with the macro-level and work our way down to our home town.

International:

There are now 558,357 cases confirmed world-wide. 25,262 people have died and 128,733 have recovered. This represents about a 14% increase in both cases and deaths in the last twenty-four hours. Sustained, that rate would result in the numbers doubling each five day period. The numbers are tricky because there are many people who probably have the virus who are not being counted, just as there is a surge in testing which distorts the numbers in the opposite direction.

Italy has the most deaths reported, with 8,215, though the rise in their curve of infections seems to be wobbling a bit and may indicate a slowing of the curve. Spain’s curve is clearly much worse at the moment and they have the second highest death total with 4,858. The United States now has the largest number of confirmed cases in the world, with 86,548. In an example of how straight numbers can distort comparisons, however, both Spain and Italy have infection rates (as currently tested and verified) of about six times that of the U.S., but their populations are much smaller.

As the epidemic spreads, there are inevitably more well-known persons who have the virus. We’ve heard figures from NBA players to celebrity chefs having the illness. Rand Paul is the highest ranking leader in the U.S. confirmed to have the virus. This morning word was released that Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of England, has been infected. As many of our world-wide leaders tend to be older and male, the risk of a severe illness is increased.

U. S. Cases Updated 3.27.20

National:

The biggest national news is that the U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country in the world, with 86,548. There were over 17,000 new cases yesterday, meaning we will almost certainly go over 100,000 cases today or tomorrow. There have been 1321 deaths, including 268 yesterday. The largest number continues to be New York with 38,977, though as a percentage in the U.S., it is dropping as more states see big increases.

The stimulus bill is being debated in the House of Representatives as we speak. The vote was expected to be taken by voice vote, meaning a quorum would not have to be present, allowing representatives to avoid congregating in large numbers for the vote. That hope was shaken by word that Representative Massie (R) from Kentucky might object and require individual votes. Hence, representatives scrambled to gather in Washington even though two members have tested positive and more than three dozen have self-quarantined with symptoms.

The president continues to indicate he’d like to open portions of the country to business sooner rather than later and his advisers, in yesterday’s press conference, seemed to shift in that direction, with Dr. Birx noting that some of the most extreme models do not seem to be accurate. County distinctions were mentioned as a way to open some counties with low numbers while keeping counties with high numbers closed. How to deal with people crossing county lines for work, fun or personal necessities unclear. Dr. Birx said something about trusting the American people.

U.S. Deaths (Updated 3.27.20)

State and Local:

Statewide numbers are posted each day at 3:00 PM by the State Department of Health. Yesterday’s numbers were 957 infected, with the largest group coming from citizens in their 20s and 30s (421). I do not see death numbers on the State site, but the worldometer site says there have been three deaths state-wide. The infections reported on the site represents a 22% increase from the previous day.

In Knox County, there is some movement with the schools which had initially told teachers not to produce supplementary materials, but which now says committees of teachers will produce optional materials for students, much of which will be review. Our local health department is reporting 30 confirmed cases in Knox County with eleven recovered and six hospitalized. The largest cohorts, again, are in their 20s and 30s.

Health Department Briefing (3/27, 12:30 PM):

According to Dr. Buchanan the numbers above are accurate. She was particularly emotional when speaking of the stresses that are emerging with some widely reported incidents. She pleaded with people to reach out if they need help, check on each other, and allow ourselves to be “human and kind and caring. It’s ok if you are struggling, if you are scared. Just talk about it. . . . These are challenging times. We average around eighty or ninety suicides in a year in Knox County.”

We know that the data supports social distancing and closing businesses. “What the data doesn’t tell us is the economic and emotional cost.” She said the Knox County Health Department is working with the Mayor’s office to attend those issues.

She encouraged calling and Facetime rather than texting because it is “more human. It’s more challenging, but it works.” She said her department is striving to make the best decisions for the community. Asked about her staff, she said they are working very hard and, “we enjoy our job.”

She emphasized that many people have mild enough cases they do not require medical care, though she emphasized even those people should stay home to “protect other people in my community.” She continues to encourage people to get outside in the good weather, but to maintain distance. She said she’d observed people sitting in chairs outside and walking at Lakeshore, but maintaining an appropriate distance.

Asked about surge protocols for hospitals, she said the hospitals work together very well. Elective surgeries and other procedures are being postponed. She said they will coordinate going forward. Alternative care sites have been considered, but not committed to at this time. She said they want to plan before there is a need.

On comparing COVID-19 to Influenza (37,000 deaths last year), she said a big difference is that COVID-19 is new and, hence we have no immunity while many of us have some immunity to the flu. Since fewer have immunities, it should spread more quickly. She said in some populations we are seeing higher rates of death with COVID-19, referencing older people, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women.

She said that the case count can change somewhat. One person over 90 was removed because subsequent tests proved negative. There are no current outbreaks among nursing homes or similar elderly housing. She emphasized that there should be no worship services this weekend in the traditional physical settings. She emphasized that it is important they stay connected in a safe manner.

Mayor Jacobs thanked the health department workers. He emphasized social distancing and said he personally has stopped visiting his in-laws and has social distanced from everyone. “If people don’t do it, it doesn’t matter what we say.” He encouraged everyone to maintain distance and said he was “disturbed” by messaging he has seen. He says he wakes up happy to have a job and to be healthy because so many people don’t and aren’t. He said he wants the messages to be realistic, but hopeful because “at some point we are going to beat this thing.”

Comments

  1. Regarding Prime Minister Boris Johnson being infected: “As many of our world-wide leaders tend to be older and male, the risk of a severe illness is increased.” Is there information that being male increases the severity of COVID-19?

  2. Thanks for your updates. They are concise and helpful. I appreciate reading them!

  3. Nina Reineri says

    Alan, did I get this right – we had 8-9 suicides in Knox county the last 48 hours?

  4. Thanks for the updates. Where can I find information about how much water to add with a teaspoon of bleach for sanitizing things like masks, clothes, and surface areas?

  5. Ann Rigell says

    Thanks for these updates, Alan. I find them very useful and look forward to reading them. Is the health department reporting their data daily on tv or online? Thanks.

  6. The suicide stats for Knox County quoted in this piece seem not to be correct. The WATE story points to 199 last year, so 8 or 9 in the past 48 hours would correspond to the number expected in a period of about 2-1/2 weeks in “normal” times. No number of suicides is good or acceptable, and 8 or 9 in two days is a tragedy, but only about 10% of the tragedy suggested by the quote in your piece.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thank you, Chris, she said “eighty or ninety in a year,” and I misunderstood as I was taking notes as she talked. I have corrected the article to reflect that. It’s easy to get it jumbled up when working quickly. For example, you use the number 199 for last year referencing the WATE story, when actually, here is their quote, “In 2019, the medical examiner performed autopsies for 199 confirmed or suspected suicides from across the region with 83 coming specifically from Knox County, the release said.” So, it was 199 for the region, not the county, but 83 for Knox County, meaning compared to last year, we had 10% as many suicides in a 48 hour period as the entire year of 2019. So, we split the difference? 🙂 I promise to try to do better, and as you say it is a tragedy in any case. Thanks for the correction!

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