Knox County Board of Health Decides Not to Reduce Maximum Group Sizes

The Board of Heath met for their regularly scheduled meeting with an item on the agenda to consider reducing sizes of social gatherings which would be allowed under current regulations. The current limit was fifty and up for consideration was reducing that to 25.

Dr. Buchanan presented the benchmark and other data, as was reported in this morning’s meeting. As stated this morning and as displayed on the website, the benchmark for cases was moved from red to yellow and the others remained as they were: Testing (Green), Public Health (Green), Health Care Capacity (Yellow) and Deaths (Red).

New Cases by Week and Month

Pace of New Cases

Charity Menefee added a piece of information they did not know earlier today: They have determined that at least one case did not have contacts traced. It was a case assigned to the state, which has handled 229 cases over the last two weeks. As a result of the discovery, they have pulled all cases back from the state until they can investigate and determine what went wrong and if there are others not contacted.

Dr. Shamiyeh followed up on the contact tracing, stressing that it is essential to retain control of the illness. He expressed concern about the opening of schools and colleges. He acknowledged that some students will test positive and the concern then becomes the students in all their classes. He questioned how much of a jolt to the contact tracing system that will be.

Hospitalizations by Week and Month

Area Hospital Census Over Time

Ms. Wagoner from Knox County Schools said 80 school nurses were trained today. They’ve built a team out as the Health Department has directed. She said they can move very quickly as soon as they know someone is positive. Charity Menefee said UT has a dedicated team, as well, of over 40, and that the Health Department can help either as needed.

Dr. Shamiyeh presented the slides you see shown throughout this article. He said the number of diagnoses producing hospitalizations is looking better. The data presented generally shows trends toward fewer hospitalizations and probably deaths. The projections are looking much better based simply on recent numbers. He noted that of all symptoms, shortness of breath is the most common among those who have not done well in the longer term. He reiterated concern about what is coming next and the impact that will have on progress made to this point.

Deaths by Month with Characteristics at UT Hospitals

Dr. Buchanan said that Mayor Jacobs asked for a report from the Health Department regarding deaths. Roberta Sturm, the lead epidemiologist from the Knox County Health Department, gave a report saying our case mortality rate is .88. She said Tennessee’s rate is right around 1% and the country’s case mortality rate is around 3%. For people over 75, the rate is over 10%.

Mayor Jacobs had apparently asked how COVID-19 ranks as a cause of death locally, and Charity reported on the research she had done on the rates. She said right now, COVID-19 is the fourth leading cause of death in the country for this year and is close to number three, according to CDC. At a local level, it appears that is likely the seventh leading cause of death in Knox County, so far for the year.

County Comparisons for Tennessee Metro Areas

They discussed the mask mandate briefly. Dr. Buchanan said they are continuing to educate and work with businesses and individuals. There have been no citations. The board seemed to agree that it is helping and isn’t likely to change soon, so the report will be changed to every two weeks unless something changes.

The Social Group Transmission Suppression Order was briefly discussed next. Dr. O’Brien said he appreciates all the work that has been done on this order, but since progress is being made on cases and hospitalizations, he questions whether it should proceed at this time.

He suggested the board hold off on the new mandate unless it is needed. He said he’s heard from a number of people who are concerned about it. He hopes people can follow what has been requested so far and to avoid pursuing that. The board seemed to agree and no vote was taken.

Evidence that Masks Are Working

Projection based on recent numbers week to week.

He also asked whether the board could meet every other week since things are going well.

Dr. Gotcher alluded to a CDC document that said they have no final opinion regarding a numerical point considered safe for social meetings. He said in a large outdoor group wearing masks, for example,  spread would be unlikely, whereas a small in-door group without masks would make spread much more likely. He said the other behaviors, such as wearing masks and distancing, may be more critical.

Dr. Gotcher said he had spoken to UT and they are limiting sizes of groups to fifty and the rules apply to on or off campus meetings, sororities and fraternities, and all organizations. Dr. Hurt, with the UT College of Nursing, noted that UT has done a tremendous amount of work to prepare for students to be safely on campus.

The board agreed to meet next week and then to determine if they continue to meet weekly or if they might move to every other week. Dr. O’Brien thanked the public for all the input and said it has been very helpful. He implored everyone to follow the five core actions and continue the good trends.


  1. Is anyone considering the results of the research from Duke about rhe effectiveness of different kinds of face coverings? I think the masks handed out by the Health Department are a kind found to be ineffective. Also, UT is giving out gaters and has them shown on a lot of the publicity about fave coverings, but the Duke researchers found they were not just ineffective but were worse than nothing.

    • I agree. Gaiter do nothing. You can see through them, so the people wearing them are at high risk of either passing the virus around or breathing it in. Even Disney parks have banned them in their parks because they are not effective.

  2. Just the fact that there have been no fines when so many businesses are not in compliance shows how incompetent the leaders are in Knox County.

    • Well, since Knox County’s sheriff has said that he won’t enforce, why are we surprised that no citations have been issued? Both sad and stupid. I’m one of those who are in their 70s and looking at being restricted for the rest of our good years — and I’m angry.

    • Any law enforcement officer who came out and proclaimed that they would not enforce the mask mandate should be asked to surrender his / her badge. They took an oath of office for their job and do not get to individually cherry pick which public mandates they will enforce. The fact that this behavior is indulged at any level of our local government simply prolongs the agony of this pandemic’s spread within our community.

    • And the answer is to boycott those businesses. I’m done with Weigel’s, for example, since they’re allowing all of their customers in their stores without masks, and showed not even the slightest interest when this was questioned by me. (And Weigel’s was previously my go to choice.)

  3. It’s interesting to me that UT is ‘limiting sizes of groups to 50’ but there are still large in person lectures of 100+ students slated and scheduled for the fall. Seems a little misleading. I’m not sure limiting the size of meetings to 50 will do much when there are a number of large lectures over 50 still happening everyday on campus. Thanks for your reporting!

    • Where are you hearing or seeing this about lecture classes larger than 50 students at UT? UT is definitely continuing to have classes over 50 students, but I’m fairly certain all of those are online or at least doing a hybrid model that has half in person/half online.

      • My husband teaches at UT, so information is coming from that knowledge. You are right that some of the classes are doing online and hybrid models, but there are still large lecture classes that are being held in person that are over 50. My husband’s lecture even being hybrid and split into two sections will still be 60+ (of course perfect attendance is never guaranteed). He also has a colleague that is teaching an in-person lecture which currently has over 100 students enrolled. I will say I think UT has done a lot trying to prepare as much as possible, but it’s a pretty tall order. It is a huge balancing act and I would not want to be the one responsible for making all the decisions they have to make. They have been very transparent, so I guess that’s why I was surprised when it was reported in the Board of Health meeting that groups were being limited to 50. To me, it seems misleading when they are not capping in-person class sizes to that amount. I’m also confused as to how football games, if held, will play out with season tickets already being sold and crowd sizes. Although it seems that football is just about exempt from everything… we’ll see if that holds true with COVID-19.

        Here are two links on UTK’s website, one about events which mentions the cap of 50 people (unless you are granted an exception) and the other one about the format of classes which does not mention any cap of numbers in their face-to-face format:

  4. Gail mitchell says

    Shows less hospitalizations and probably deaths. PROBABLY?????seriously? OMG I am praying for my sons safety on UT’s campus as well as every person on this planet. God please protect us, even the crazy people in ‘power’.

  5. My husband works at UT and I am very concerned about his welfare. Even though he is not on the frontlines he is still there. I fear for the teachers, the students, everyone. I dont think that things are being taken as seriously as they should.

  6. These numbers are incredibly helpful and, in my mind, makes it very clear that things are looking positive. The details about those who have died make me feel a lot more at ease.

  7. Now AMC theaters are reopening on August 20th. with social distancing and a mask requirement. How many people do you think will keep their masks on after the lights go down? How can you eat popcorn with a mask on. It’s not going to work.

  8. Another day, another weak, cowardly decision. Color me surprised.

  9. You all that really think breathing with a cover on your face keeps you safe scare the living heck out of me. Thats not how it works. I am blown away how this has been handled. It has been proven that there is so many false negatives or asymptomatic. It has been proven that death certificates have been falsified. All 50 that I know personally have had no symptoms. I am aware that it is a real virus along with a million other ones. In 2018 1.5 million people died from TB 250,000 was children. I just can not see why people are all about mask. It is so funny to me. Like wash your hands and keep your hands off your face and simply take care of your immune system. Everyone comes in contact with 100s of microbes a day that could possibly make one ill. This whole thing people saying that mask should be enforce shows you do not have faith in mask. Because if you did then you would wear your mask and go on with your day. The immune compromised wears a mask not the healthy people around them. Germs are everywhere, always have been. Some good some bad. But stop pushing your agenda of taken my freedom, my right, my choice away. We went from being offended by women breastfeeding in public to wanting to control someone to wear a mask. It is absolutely absurd. The truth is the science does not show mask work. Because a virus does not go away, our immune system fights it. Virus’s have been here as long as we have. Stop with all of this and take care of yourself. Stop intruding on how I choose to live my life, which I promise is a lot more healthier than most.

  10. Bob Fischer says

    I thought the mask regulation making as much difference as it has was clearly the big news of the meeting. This could be a huge turning point in our fight against this virus. If Glenn Jacobs was to call off his culture war and work towards getting both his followers and detractors rowing in the same direction, we could have this situation under control in short order. I saw an olive branch being extended. I hope it works out.

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