COVID-19: 4/9/2020 Update (Including today’s Health Department Briefing)

A Heart Over Knoxville in the Time of the Coronavirus, Knoxville, March 2020
A Heart Over Knoxville in the Time of the Coronavirus, Knoxville, March 2020

Each day brings what seems like another whip-lash moment: The death toll will be in the millions or the death toll will be much smaller than anyone feared. The stock market is crashing beyond all hope or the stock market is poised to deliver generational increases. Schools will never reopen or schools should be able to finish this academic year. Businesses will be shuttered for months, or we are close to seeing a grand reopening of our economy.

It’s exhausting. And almost always, the truth is somewhere in between. Unlike previous difficult times in our country, our news is delivered by the moment, now. News organizations are pressed to keep the eyes of the currently rapt public. Generally this means sparking extreme emotion. If the headline can make you terribly afraid, indignant, outraged or repulsed, you are more likely to click the link which, in normal times at least, means more money for the outlet. And it means overload for information consumers.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at where we are as best we can determine that current location. No one can completely analyze, calculate or certainly project what has happened, what is happening and what is to come. All we can do is collectively read the tea leaves and do today what we best understand to be helpful for tomorrow.

That said, there are some dire numbers and some growing signs of encouragement.

International News:

As I write this, there are now 1,539,119 cases of COVID-19 worldwide. A total of 89,998 deaths have been attributed to the virus. This represents about a 6.1% increase in cases and about a 7.8% increase in deaths. These rates are slightly better than yesterday, but yesterday was twice as bad as the day before. The curves for the world do not, yet, seem to be altering, as seen on the graphs included yesterday.

After a surge, France’s numbers returned to the lower levels currently seen across much of Europe and that is encouraging. Turkey, Brazil and Russia continue to have sharper increases than most countries. Sweden’s infection rates continue to increase as they’ve experimented with less restriction than their neighbors. Most alarming for them is that their per capita death rate is now 8th in the world when you remove the smallest countries. Here, you’ll find a good article on Swedish cultural differences which might explain why they chose this policy and why it might have a better chance of working for them. Here’s another suggesting the approach may be already backfiring.

In other news, at least some scientists are expressing doubt that warmer weather will impact the spread of the virus. In what isn’t a surprising revelation, rich countries are getting medical supplies that are in demand to fight the virus, while poor countries, particularly in Latin America and Africa are being out-bid. So far, with the notable exception of Brazil, these countries have been spared the high infection rates seen in other places in the world. The concern is if the virus becomes pervasive there, the lack of ability to test and treat will result in a much higher death rate.

National News:

There are now 435,941 diagnosed cases and 14,865 deaths. This represents a twenty-four hour increase of about 8.8% in cases and about a 15.6% increase in deaths. Both increases are significantly worse than yesterday. Yesterday, 31,935 new cases were diagnosed and 1,940 deaths were acknowledged. This represents almost 40% of new cases and 30% of new deaths in the world for the day.

In the economic realm of the numbers, new unemployment claims last week totaled 6.6 million, meaning that about 10% of the country’s workforce has been lost in three weeks. On the heels of that news, the Federal reserve announced plans to put an additional $2.3 billion into the economy. Congress also seems inclined to add money at least to the Paycheck Protection Program, with the Republicans suggesting $250 billion and the Democrats saying it should be larger.

As dire as those numbers sound, there are increasing signs of hope. The stock market rebounded yesterday and, as of this writing, appears poised to end the week higher (the markets are closed tomorrow for Good Friday). It doesn’t mean much to many millions of Americans, but if it is seen as a barometer of confidence and hopefulness, it’s better if it’s rising.

In terms of the illness, while the current numbers are the worst they have been so far, the current modeling (which changes with new data) shows the peak of new cases may come late this week or this weekend in some of the hardest hit states such as New York and New Jersey. Other states will peak later, however, so state-by-state and community-by-community the situation will be different.

New information reveals the likelihood that New York’s outbreak originated in Europe through travelers returning to the U.S. The article delves deeply into genomes, so put your science hat on if you want to read that one. In another interesting development, the C.D.C. has dispatched teams to eight areas with the lowest impact in hopes it might be able to help officials in those places contain the virus and avoid the wide spread seen elsewhere.

State and Local News:

The most recent numbers for Tennessee indicate 4,362 cases and 79 deaths. These numbers represent a 5.4% increase in cases and a 9.7% increase in deaths in a twenty-four hour period. That is slightly better than yesterday. There have been 352 hospitalizations state-wide due the Corononavirus. Early signs appear to be good for the state, assuming we all continue social distancing and staying at home as much as possible.

Locally, there are now 152 confirmed cases and 4 deaths. 19 have been hospitalized and 106 have recovered. These are encouraging numbers, representing a 4.1% overnight increase in cases and no increase in deaths. Mayor Kincannon has instructed all city employees to wear masks when interacting with the public and when in close proximity to each other. Compass has an excellent look at the situation’s impact on attempts to make a budget for both the city and the county, each of which have lost a large portion of their revenue generated from sales taxes.

Knox County Health Department Daily Briefing:

Dr. Buchanan expressed appreciation to faith communities who are experiencing an important holy day without gathering. She said she knows it is difficult. She said that another person has died, but the residency of that person is being confirmed before it is or is not added to our totals.

She noted that testing spots have increased including a number of clinics and primary care physicians. The health department is also testing. She asked that people call for an appointment and that drive through testing is possible. She also said that the number of tests possible will increase as of Monday. She said they are happy to see there are new tests available, but urged that local providers only use FDA approved tests.

In response to questions:

  • Surge numbers were questioned. We can surge up to 4,000 more beds than are currently available. This is a regional number.
  • The state seems to have taken the Expo Center off the table and is considering East Town Mall. Asked if the Health Department was involved in that shift, she said the task force is involved.
  • Would our situation be worse if we had not put social distancing guidelines and staying at home as a priority? Yes, we believe these numbers are better specifically because people are abiding by the recommendations and urged continuing adherence to those guidelines.
  • Modeling the state is using shows fewer cases projected here and more in Nashville, resulting in a shift of some Army Corps of Engineering has responded in terms of plans for new beds.
  • Encourage clinicians to use their judgement even if a test is negative.
  • They are not going to release any more patient-specific data at this time.
  • Regarding whether patients may be dying and being coded as pneumonia, rather than Covid, she said that is possible, but they have to trust the medical professionals.
  • Is the risk low in Knox County? She says it is higher than it was when we began. She said we probably have many more as 80% of people do not experience serious symptoms. She said the danger is because we don’t have immunity to the illness and some are extremely vulnerable.
  • Asked whether hotels were being used as isolating spots for ill persons with no home. She said that is a common practice and is being done in this case. They have now shifted to the city’s new facility set up for this purpose. She said they take extreme care to protect anyone else in the hotel and to truly isolate them.