COVID-19: 5/26/2020 Update (Including Today’s Health Department Briefing)

Tennessee Daily Cases 5.26.2020
Worldwide Daily Cases 5.26.2020

Later today the United States of America will report its 100,000 death due to COVID-19. The current number of 99,950 deaths due to an illness most of us had not heard of just five months ago is hard to fathom. Many feel we likely passed this mark sometime ago as the number is likely higher. While the number can be seen as just another statistic along our way in the pandemic, it is important to remember the humanity of these people and to acknowledge 100,000 grieving families for whom the illness is very real.

I’ll admit that when the president first used that figure, I was shocked, and felt he was exaggerating the number. The date was March 30 and the president, after speaking optimistically just a few days earlier about holding Easter services nationwide, noted then current predictions of 100,000 to 140,000 dead by August. He said if we kept the number below 100,000, he and his administration would have done a “very good job.”

At the time, there were 4,000 deaths in the U.S. Less than two months later, we have added 96,000 to that number. It’s an old practice to “sandbag,” as we called it when I was a kid: Downplay how well you’ll do in order to surprise everyone when you do much better. I assumed that’s what we were seeing. Just eight weeks ago, I simply didn’t think this day was possible. Thankfully, daily deaths are decreasing and we can hope we don’t have to see another 100,000 of our fellow citizens die before we gain control of the pandemic.

While there have been numerous comparisons to the annual round of influenza, numbers for the last decade show that the worst year produced 61,000 deaths in the U.S. If there were no more deaths from COVID-19 starting today, the cause of death would likely rank seventh or higher for leading causes of death for 2020.

International News:

There are 5,631,831 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. 348,965 people have been confirmed to have died of the illness since the beginning of the outbreak. Yesterday, 90,184 new cases were reported and 3,096 deaths were reported for the day.

As is clear from the graph at the top of this page, the number of identified cases continues to increase. While some of the increase in numbers may be due to increased testing, it, nonetheless confirms the massive presence of the illness around the globe. While yesterday’s number on the graph reflected a third consecutive day of decline, we’ve come to expect a seven-day pattern in which the early days of the week are lower. Relative to seven days ago, this number is higher. The three days of decline come on the heals of the highest single day total of newly identified cases, 107,521 on May 22.

Worldwide Daily Deaths 5.26.2020

The best news in the world is that reported numbers of daily deaths are decreasing. While it is clear that some countries are under-reporting deaths (Brazil, Mexico, Russia), the trend is likely bigger than those omissions. That they would decline as a percentage of cases is to be expected as a greater percentage of ill people are identified. That there would be a decline in raw numbers of deaths is more complicated. Earlier hospitalization and intubation? More protection for the most vulnerable? It’s hard to say until some time has passed.

Brazil now has the second highest number of cases in the world, behind the United States. The UK, which continues to see large numbers of new cases, ranks second, behind the United States, in deaths. Yesterday there were 13 countries reporting 1,000 or more new cases for the day, with nine of those reporting more than 2,000. Brazil, India, Russia, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh join the United States in having continuing high rates of infection.

U.S. Daily Cases 5.26.2020

National News:

There are currently 1,711,008 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. As of this writing there are 99,950 confirmed deaths in our country. New cases reported yesterday numbered 19,790 with an additional 505 deaths for the day. New case totals, while remaining stubbornly high, have slowly decreased over the last four weeks. Ranging around 30,000 new cases per day in late April, the number has more recently fluctuated around 20,000.

As beaches, theme parks, theatres and all manner of businesses continue to open around the country, many people are choosing not to use face masks or adhere to social distancing requests. While medical professionals continue to stress the importance of these measures, many people simply feel they aren’t necessary or that being told what to do is an infringement of their rights.

Worldwide Daily Deaths 5.26.2020

So, what will give? Will we have a surge in cases across the country? Will warmer weather save us from ourselves? Are we really doing beteter with social distancing than it appears? Was the medical advice wrong?

Twenty states are reporting increases over the last week, compared with thirteen saying the same a week earlier. Many of the largest increases (week over week) among states are found in the south: South Carolina, 42% (the largest weekly increase); Alabama, 28%; Missouri (27%); and North Carolina, (26%). “New cases in Georgia, one of the first states to reopen, rose 21% after two weeks of declines.”

A look at new cases yesterday across the United States finds five states added over 1,000 new cases: California, Illinois, Virginia, New York and New Jersey. Looking at the twenty largest single-day numbers from yesterday shows what’s happening in the south: Virginia (3rd), Florida (6th), North Carolina (10th), Louisiana (11th), Texas (14th), Alabama (15th), Georgia (16th) and Tennessee (17th).

Tennessee Daily Cases 5.26.2020

State and Local News:

As of yesterday afternoon, the State of Tennessee reported 20,607 total cases and 338 deaths. The twenty-four hour increase in cases was 462, with 2 additional deaths for the period. 11 additional people were hospitalized and 236 were considered to be newly recovered. Again, as with a number of recent days, the new cases out numbers the recoveries, by more than two hundred, meaning our total number of active cases is rising. That number is currently around 7500.

Tennessee Testing and Positivity Rates 5.26.2020

The state reports that it has tested just over 396,000, including over 12,000 the previous 24 hours. Testing across the state, as seen in the graph, has clearly increased, with the two highest daily test totals coming in the last three days. Increasingly, health organizations are looking at the percentage of positive tests to estimate prevalence and rate of increase of the disease.

The benchmark is to keep positive tests below 5% of tests given. Tennessee’s seven-day rolling average positive rate bottomed out at 3.6% earlier this month, but has since risen to 4.6%.

Locally, the Knox County Health Department is reporting ten newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 since yesterday, marking the first time the county has seen a double-digit increase since May 11 when there were 15 new cases. The total since the beginning of the pandemic shows Knox County with 352 cases. Active cases have increased from 27 reported yesterday, to 34 reported today. Two Knox County citizens are now hospitalized, an increase of 1 since yesterday. The county is now listing 10 probable cases (not included in other numbers).

Health Department Briefing:

Catherine Killen and Charity Menefee led today’s meeting. Ms. Killen thanked the many people who are following medical guidance and said she felt it was a majority. She said they are looking out not only for themselves, but for the community at large. She confirmed the above numbers, with the exception that she said there are 39 active cases. I assume that was an error, as the website says 34. I initially changed the number above to be consistent, but since decided she probably misspoke. She noted there has been a statistically significant increase since yesterday and said they will continue to keep a close eye on that, but that increases were expected as we open up our economy.


  • Is there any evidence that the ten percent increase in cases over the last eight days is due to the Phase one reopening? It is likely and not unexpected, but we will continue to watch it.
  • Why have more males gotten the virus statewide and locally? We aren’t sure. It is being looked at across the country.
  • What was the statistical significance of the increase you saw over the weekend? We had a standard deviation shift over a three day window, which is significant on the benchmarks.
  • Some places are posting to stay 12 feet apart as opposed to 6 feet. Are they just being cautious or has the guidance changed? The guidance about 12 feet relates to activities such as singing and exercise or plays where you are projecting more and sending out more particles.
  • Hamilton County has seen a large jump in cases over the weekend. Does that impact your thinking about the local situation? We communicate regularly and will see if the state has any new recommendations.
  • Can businesses be held liable if an employee or customer gets sick? We don’t offer legal advice.
  • What is being done to control air flow in businesses? We can’t regulate air flow, but we encourage windows to be open where practically and legally allowed.
  • As more fitness businesses open should individuals remain hesitant? It is important to make decisions that are right for you and your family.
  • While Knox County has had fewer cases per capita than many other areas of the state, it is under more stringent guidelines than the state guidelines. Why? We’ve set our benchmarks based on available data. We wanted to look at how it is spread and we’ve been successful and we want that success to continue. The governor allowed local flexibility.
  • What is your plan if and when COVID-19 cases spike in June? As we’ve said, we will continue to watch case numbers, trace and track and quarantine individuals when required.
  • Can you explain the manner in which decisions were made as to the composition of the Reopening committee? There are representatives from business, finance, city and county, but not from other community groups. The committee came as a merger of two groups who worked separately initially.
  • With high school sports allowed to begin practice today, are there any new guidelines? Look to state guidance.
  • Parks and other places have been packed and people are not social distancing. Reaction? It is disappointing, but we address concerns as opposed to patrolling for violations.
  • Is the increase of cases over the weekend enough to change the light for yellow? We update benchmarks on Friday. We look for three days of significant increase and there have been two.
  • Are the newer cases as severe as the first cases? It has always represented a spectrum. Nothing has changed.
  • Is the increase over the weekend due to clusters? Largely, no.