COVID-19: Updates Including Today’s Just Concluded Knox County Health Department Briefing

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

I hope everyone is staying safe, keeping your sanity, and sharing support with those who need it. We’re really fortunate to go through this in a time when we have so many options to stay connected. I miss my grandchildren, but we Facetime every night, and their mother sends great pictures from their “school day.” Call or Facetime someone you love or someone who you simply fear is lonely.

Internationally, the COVID-19 virus has now been confirmed in 491,180 people in 198 countries and territories (All statistics for national and international numbers come from this source). 22,165 people have died and 118,059 have recovered. Of interest to me are the low numbers in developing countries. Perhaps this is due to the populations being less mobile. My fear is that if this gets loose in densely populated, impoverished countries with very poor medical care, the numbers could look very bad, very quickly. Then again, if they aren’t tested, will they be counted?

World COVID-19 Cases and Deaths, March 26, 2020

Also notable, China and South Korea, which in many people’s minds have stopped their spreads, continue to report new cases. The numbers are small, but today China is reporting 67 new cases and South Korea is reporting 104. Each of these numbers are for less than twelve hours, but have already surpassed yesterday’s full 24 hour report in those countries. Still, the numbers are small, but we’ll see.

At a national level, 68,905 cases of the virus have been confirmed. Yesterday, alone, revealed over 13,000 new cases. Yesterday was also our deadliest, with 247 new deaths reported. We also crossed the 1,000 mark with 1,037 deaths to date. We rank third in the world in cases and sixth in deaths. In per capita deaths and illness, we rank significantly lower, which is important to consider when comparing countries.

U.S. COVID-19 Cases, March 26, 2020

A claim being made nationally is that we’ve tested more than South Korea and we’ve done it in a much shorter time. A couple of caveats should be acknowledged to this claim. First, we started testing well into our outbreak. We could have saved more lives and taken more effective action if we’d attacked this earlier. Second is that “per capita” thing mentioned in the last paragraph. In real numbers, we have given more tests than South Korea, but they have tested a much larger percentage of their population, and that is the number that will really tell us where we are. South Korea has tested roughly 1 in 142 of their citizens, while we have tested roughly 1 in 786 of ours.

Meanwhile, the stimulus bill I mentioned yesterday was simply agreed upon, not passed as I stated. It has since passed the Senate and will be considered by the House, probably tomorrow. It promises major relief, including $1,200 payouts to adults, a smaller amount per child, loans to small businesses who retain their employees, and bailouts for the industries hit hardest.

The stock market has improved from its worst point, but unemployment claims numbers published today indicate the scope of our challenge. Claims filed for new jobless benefits in the last week totaled over 3.25 million. That breaks the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982. Whether this indicates a complete meltdown of our economy, or an unfortunate blip on our return to prosperity, depends on your source of information.

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

And that wonky Internet you are running into as you rocket between video coverage of the epidemic and cute kitty videos to forget what you’ve just watched? It’s really a thing. Use of the Internet by so many has exploded, taxing the capacity of our infrastructure. It brings up a great movie idea for kids to watch during their downtime: Ralph Breaks the Internet. I guess it would be ironic if you all ran out to stream it for your kids and that was the last straw for the system.

At the state level, according to the Tennessee Department of Health, as of 3:00 p.m. yesterday (information is only updated once a day), 784 people have tested positive. The site used above says there are now 906 cases and three deaths. It indicates there were 133 new cases diagnosed yesterday.

Local reporting from the Knox County Health Department indicates 28 positive tests of the 409 administered. Six patients have recovered, and five have been hospitalized. According to local press reports, someone had the virus while attending Fulton High School before the break. That would put this person as being infected by no later than March 13. I couldn’t readily find the date for the first acknowledged case, but that may push our beginning date earlier. Meanwhile we are encountering a serious blood shortage.

Locally, Mayor Jacobs has proposed $500,000 to the Knoxville Zoo, which has seen its revenue stream crash while expenses for caring for the animals continues. It’s not the first economic impact that might come to mind, but it’s easy to see how that could quickly become a critical situation. It’s probably wise to expect other economic impacts that wouldn’t be readily obvious.

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

Today’s Health Department Briefing:

Dr. Buchanan started with an expression of gratitude for Mayor Jacobs for covering the cost of testing for uninsured patients who are screened through the Health Department. As to when social distancing might show results, she said only that we will continue to evaluate. She strongly urged everyone to socially distance and for businesses to close as requested, but she said it will only work if everyone does it.

Asked whether more information might be released regarding cases, such as neighborhoods or streets, Dr. Buchanan cited privacy and also emphasized that when the Health Department is able to reach the people most likely at risk from a particular case, that abrogates the need for further spreading the information. With the patient isolated, there is little more needed.

She said that nursing homes aren’t necessarily being tested. She emphasized that these facilities have shut off visitation beyond what is medically necessary. She acknowledged that is hard for everyone.

Businesses such as Walmart, which provides essential as well as other items,  were mentioned as being open. Jo-Ann Fabrics and Knoxville Wholesale Warehouse were also mentioned as being open. Dr. Buchanan reiterated that they only want essential businesses open and said they are following up with businesses that are being reported. She did note that some businesses are considered essential, which might not be obvious at first blush.

Asked about the fact that some restaurants are allowing dining outside in their outdoor seating, she reiterated that there is no “on premise” dining, which includes outdoor seating. She said her staff will be checking and “helping those restaurateurs to get into compliance.”

Regarding having people into our homes, Dr. Buchanan was asked about groups of less than ten. She said it is still OK but to follow the social distancing guidelines. Asked if we should keep a list of people with whom we come into contact, she said it would be an OK idea, since it is what you would be asked if you become sick. However, she said she doesn’t see it as necessary.

She again encouraged going through the Health Department for mild symptoms. She also reiterated calling ahead to the hospital if you need to go to an emergency room. Asked about what Dr. Piercy at the state level said about a lag in test results because so many tests are being done, which could eventually result in a spike of numbers, Dr. Buchanan said that could also be true locally.

Regarding surrounding counties and whether there should be similar Safer at Home orders there, she deferred that to them.

Asked about local homeless people and whether there are confirmed cases and what is being done, she said they are working with multiple community partners to deal with the issue, saying providing housing for isolation would be part of their response.


  1. Thank you for your continued reporting and updates- as an essential worker, I am missing these newscasts and am glad to find them here.

  2. Thanks for your honest and fact-specific coverage. Please keep it up!

  3. Thank you for the daily update. You are a reliable source that I can depend on.

  4. Sue Carney says

    My sons job has over 600 workers, it’s not essential items, they are not practicing 6’ distancing at all, what can be done

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I believe they want you to call 211. The order, however, doesn’t effect manufacturing, if I understand it correctly, only retail businesses.

      • Hi. I’ve called 211 twice in the past couple of days (one was for a broken traffic light at Cedar Bluff). I’m getting a recording each time that they’re unavailable from my calling area – which is the Cedar Bluff area.

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          That’s not encouraging.

          • 311 is the number you would call about a traffic light, not 211. 211 is for social services.

          • Yes Kristen, you are correct about that. 311 handles all calls regarding services provided by the city i.e. traffic lights, pot holes, trash pick up, etc. They would also be the ones to call if for example your neighbor’s yard hasn’t been mowed in weeks or also to report in this case a business not complying with city directives.

  5. Thank you for the updates. The national news reports are nice, but the local ones affect us more directly. Please keep up the good work.

  6. Thanks so much for letting us know what is going on locally. And you write very entertainly.

  7. Where can we report nonessential businesses, like payday loan companies and title loan companies? They are forcing people to come in to the lobby to pay their bills?

  8. Susan Ballard says

    JoAnn’s Fabrics is helping customers make masks for healthcare providers.

  9. Oslo Cole says

    211 is meant for folks who are in need of certain types of assistance i.e. rent assistance, mental health services, etc. 311 is the number you should call if you’re needing to report problems with businesses who seem to be defying county guidance on closing. I know this because I worked with the United Way on the 211 initiative.

  10. On the Knox Co health department briefing yesterday, they said to call 311 to report non compliant businesses.

  11. The data re the risk this virus poses to the world is moving in an opposite direction than this article fears.

    If we treated the flu like we are this covid virus, with media reports of every flu death, it would be as dramatic as covid if not more (100s daily, and comparably even more because flu often is not the cause of death for someone with cancer that dies of the flu for example—yet, covid always gets the credit).

    Nevertheless, this virus has not moved the needle regarding increasing the % of Deaths world wide from year to year—even in places like Italy.

    And it likely will not in the undeveloped world either. Those places are generally too hot in the summer, and there is not enough populated areas in the Southern Hemisphere that are undeveloped.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Help me understand your perspective. I think your first sentence means that the risk is diminishing? Also, help me understand why health experts in every country that has been hit have treated this like a great danger, but you disagree? I’m not arguing or diminishing your perspective, but I am not a medical person, so I am assuming medical professionals all over the world who are worried, have a reason to be so. Help me reconcile your confidence against their judgement. If this is no great danger or no greater danger than the flu, what is happening in New York City? I’m just not understanding and I’m genuinely trying to.

      • Health professionals are operating off the early models which showed higher mortality and higher infection.

        The data is coming in world wide, and it is not aligning with the models at all—by an order of magnitude of 25,000 to 1. Simply put, rushed models are bad models. In this case, really really bad.

        There are plenty of high caliber health professionals writing articles about this every single day. They pop up on balanced news sites like real clear politics if you look for them. And, this was discussed last night as well on the press conference.

        That said, now that the data is coming in, those who put out the models have dropped their predictions from 500,000 dead in UK for example, to 25,000.

        Just look at NYC and California, two of our most populated states. Peak cases are two to their weeks out their governors day. Multiple current deaths there by 3-5x, and you see something that looks like a dangerous flu season.

        I’m not a prophet. And I totally get it makes sense to be conservative in the face of the unknown. But What has happened with this virus is an huge over reaction.

        At the end of this year, compare worldwide mortality (total deaths) to last year; and I predict it will not be any higher. Time will tell.

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          I did hear that and I also questioned some of the most dire early warnings. It also seems possible that the change in models reflects the efforts that have been made since the original projections, though, no?

          • I don’t think so, because It takes 5 days to present and average cases take 7-14 days to get critical and result in an outcome.

            So current death rates are from infections incurred prior to the major shift in social distancing. New cases are backlogged and are catching up fast; so hopefully we will see new cases drop soon.

            As you ramp up testing you start to see what the real mortality is: 1 percent in America, .6 in Germany, etc.

            Now that we have the data that 90 percent of those presenting symptoms actually don’t have the virus, two things are apparent: 1. Rate of infection is vastly less than anticipated; or 2. There’s a ton of people infected that aren’t even bothering to get tested because they are asymptomatic, which would mean mortality is 10-20x less than the 1 percent rate we see now.

            In either cases, it changes dramatically our fears about the virus.

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

            What is your interpretation of what is happening in New York City and Italy, where hospitals are overrun with people needed critical care? What would that look like if we’d not instituted practices like social distancing? I guess I’m struggling taking the leap from thinking the early models may have been more dire than needed to the idea that we should simply go back to work and there’s nothing to see here. WHO and other organizations and the world’s leading epidemiologists were over reactive and confused?

      • Daniel Smith says
        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          I read it and it sounds convincing. I’d like to see more from less right-leaning publications.

        • I think New York had to do what it did based off what was happening on the ground. It was truly and clearly necessary.

          I think cities like Knoxville are making a mistake by jumping on that bandwagon too soon. There is no curve to flatten with 26 cases.

          That said, A Two week stay at home order is not a terrible price to pay, so that locally we can get testing in place and develop tracing and isolation mechanisms.

          This is a new virus so it pays to to be conservative. But prolonging these measures is risky in my opinion, as the economic and health consequences of not working appears greater than the threat that exists at the present- especially now that we have data to work from and can better (at least) see how prevalent the virus really is in the community.

          In short: I don’t think it’s fair to have a black and white view: either we should do nothing, or we should shut everything down but essential services.

          Instead of shutting everything down, I think it would have made more sense to implement less draconian policies like: no mass gatherings, concerts, limited seating concerts, Restaurants limited to 50 people for a time, etc.

          When politicians seize the power to take away fundamental human rights, they should do only so much as is clearly necessary. With only 1-2 cases in Knox county at the time, acting out of an Abundance of caution, for me, doesn’t fit the bill.

          • Oslo Cole says

            Daniel, do you have any expertise in the area of public health? Just trying to understand why your opinion would be more valid that health experts. You’re welcome to your opinion of course but it seems that you’re trying to supplement the advice of experts with your own opinion.

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