COVID-19 Update: 5/4/2020 (Including Today’s Health Department Briefing)

Market Square Farmers' Market, Mary Costa Plaza, Knoxville, May 2020


Market Square Farmers’ Market, Mary Costa Plaza, Knoxville, May 2020

I hope you each relaxed a bit and enjoyed some sunshine this weekend. Urban Woman and I enjoyed listening to past Jazz Fest performances on WWOZ from New Orleans and to the excellent, new R.B. Morris vinyl L.P.

I’m going to keep today’s update a bit briefer, simply to get it out at a reasonable time. I got a late start due to an appointment. So, I’ll cut right to the stats.

One note, a reader and friend, who contacted me this weekend to point out that percentages of increase might be deceptive if not thought through. Her point: If the new infection rate stays the same, percentages necessarily drop. This is true, and I thought I’d accounted for it with more detail, including raw numbers.

But, in case that seems odd to you, consider: If we have 10,000 cases today and add a thousand, that is a 10% increase. If there is an increase of 1,000 tomorrow, same as today, it is only a .9% increase. The next day, a thousand new cases would be 8.3% and so on. So, when I say percentages of increase are going down, it partially reflects the larger number. It does, however, indicate the current rate of increase and we want that to go down. Clear? Maybe not. I’ll use raw numbers for a while to frame our situation that way.

International News:

As of mid-day, there are 3,596,717 confirmed cases and 249,522 deaths worldwide. Over the last seventy-two hours (the weekend), this reflects an increase of 260,082 cases and 14,280 deaths. By raw numbers, the U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases, new cases, total deaths and daily deaths. Last weekend worldwide cases increased by 251,869 and by 14,683 deaths.

Other countries of note: Spain and Italy have now begun efforts to reopen their economies, though they continue to have new cases each day ranging from 1,000 to 4,000. Of the other European countries, the U.K. continues to be in the worst shape, with a higher daily infection rate that all the others.

Looking elsewhere in the world, not much has changed since last week. Russia is in major trouble. Currently ranked seventh in the world in total cases, their infection rate is continuing at nearly 10%. They have installed a solid testing program, with a per capita testing rate about 35% higher than the U.S. Other countries continuing or beginning to struggle: Brazil, Peru, India, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia and Mexico. These are not countries known for their cold weather, which raises a question about the virus going away with the heat.

Old Gray Cemetery, Knoxville, April 2020

National News:

Today’s mid-day numbers indicate that the U.S. has 1,193,081 cases and 68,978 total deaths. This reflects weekend increases of 91,857 cases and 4,932 deaths. Last weekend’s increases were 97,197 cases and 4,589 deaths. Per capita, among countries with a larger population that the Knoxville metro area, the U.S. has the fifth highest total infection rate in the world, the ninth highest death rate in the world and about the 23rd highest rate of testing in the world.

The push to reopen continues rapidly escalating, with White House officials offering encouraging signals to the protesters demanding more freedom from masks, work shut downs and public space limitations. Dr. Birx expressed concern over the weekend, regarding the protests and much of the activity around the country:

In a “Fox News Sunday” interview, Birx weighed in on recent incidents ranging from crowds flocking to Califonia beaches to the reopening of salons and spas, but came down particularly hard on Michigan protesters who stormed the state capitol in large numbers without wearing masks.

“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or a very unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives,” Birx said. “So we need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.”

Birx also noted that even activities that are now being permitted by certain state governors may not be in the public’s best interest, and reminded people that the White House’s guidelines are there to let people know how to stay safe. Several states have begun reopening, even though none have met the White House’s recommended 14-day decline in cases before doing so.

She did suggest the possibility of a vaccine by January, which is encouraging. President Trump is now using an increased estimate when he talks about potential U.S. deaths from the virus, saying last night in a Fox Town Hall, “Look, we’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people.”

Market Square, A Quiet Spring in the Time of the Coronavirus, Knoxville, March 2020

State and Local News:

Tennessee now has (latest numbers are from yesterday) 13,177 confirmed cases and 210 total deaths. Comparatively, there were 10,735 cases and 199 deaths reported by mid-day on Friday, for weekend increases of 2,442 cases and 11 deaths over the weekend. Relative to last weekend, the number of cases reflects a significant jump. Last weekend only 1,401 new cases were reported, along with the same number of deaths. These numbers do not reflect an impact by the recent openings, which we should see in two-to-three weeks.

Locally, the Knox County Health Department is reporting 246 total cases and the same 5 deaths. The eight new cases over the weekend compare to seven new cases last weekend. Knox County has remained fairly steady for weeks in new numbers of infections. The officials from the Knox County Health Department have made it clear that they expect the numbers to increase with the reductions in work restrictions. It will be two-to-three weeks before we know the extent of the impact.

As one commenter made clear on this morning’s article, many people do not feel a need to wear masks or engage in social distancing. For those of you who missed that comment, here is what she said,

My daughter works for a downtown retail store that caters to a certain age. Of the 174 people who shopped there Saturday, 7 wore masks. Some didn’t believe in social distancing, with comments ranging from “I thought that only meant employees” to “you don’t have to social distance if you pray”. Until this level of uneducated, ill-informed thinking is curbed, I predict an uptick in cases.

Assuming this sample to be representative of those going out and about in the city, we should get a good measure in the next few weeks of whether we’ve got this thing in the rear view or if, perhaps, the advice from the CDC, the White House Task Force and others is correct. Perhaps the warmer weather will help us. We’ll soon know.

Knox County Health Department Briefing:

Charity Menefee started by thanking the people who are wearing masks and observing distance from others as they’ve gone to newly opened businesses.

She explained the struggle trying to give detailed data to those who are adept at and enjoy statistics and others who simply want to know how we are doing. That is why each of the metrics being used to determine our next moves each have traffic signal graphics with a green, yellow or red light depending on how that benchmark is looking. Each of the lights are green, as they have been since they were placed on the website.

She said they continue to look at ways to expand testing and are working with the state. She also reminding that private providers are testing.


  • What is the number of COVID-19 patients who were on a ventilator and recovered? No specific number, but that has happened.
  • We all saw people this weekend in public not wearing masks. What would the health department say to these people who say being forced to wear a mask infringes on their freedom? We saw some of that. Remember it is to protect others. For the most part people continue to do what they should and it will help us move past this more quickly.
  • An epidemiologist will be available soon to answer press questions.
  • Is it advisable to take the whole family out when you go, as many were this weekend? No, not in places where others are congregated.
  • How many complaints came in over the weekend? Citations? No number, but we are following up.
  • Other states are warning about a second wave this fall. Do we expect one? This would be normal for viruses, but it will be less severe if we do the best we can in the meantime to control spread.
  • Has the county’s inmate population been tested? They have tested when there has been need, but we have had no positive tests at this time.
  • Evidence shows there are asymptomatic people spreading the disease which is why we recommend masks, etc.
  • The metric on testing seems to only reflect progress (increased testing) and not how comprehensive it is objectively. Is this correct? Yes.
  • Why is transmission rate not given? It’s not one of our benchmarks.
  • Will there be more mass-testing events? We might, but we aren’t seeing much payoff. In one event, 500 tests resulted in five positive test results.
  • 311 is still the best number to call with concerns about businesses not following guidelines.
  • With current testing, will it take two weeks to see a change in infection rates? Yes, due to incubation.