Dr. Buchanan presented the benchmarks (which were updated this afternoon). She repeated the numbers from the earlier report. Regarding the new case benchmark, she said it remained yellow even though reductions in numbers are evident. Testing and Public Health Capacity each stayed green. Testing results are being returned more quickly. Health Care capacity remained yellow even though there was one day of statistically significant increases in patient numbers. Overall the numbers remain steady. The Death Benchmark was left yellow, even though there appears to be a stabilization there. There were 11 deaths in the last 14 days.
It was stated, once more, that a UT student who is currently living here, is counted here. If they go home to recover, the case is transferred to their home county. One helpful thing, she said, with COVID-19 is that tracing only has to go back a couple of days, unlike some other illnesses. Also helpful is the fact that exposure requires a prolonged contact (10 minutes) without social distancing.
Dr. Shemiyeh made his presentation of local cases and hospital numbers. The charts in this article are his. Afterward, Dr. Hurt said she gets questions regarding why masks are necessary when numbers are looking better and asked him to speak to that. He clarified that the dropping numbers meant we should continue to press forward with the actions that have resulted in the reduction.
The charts showed that our situation is improving, according to the numbers. The amount of time to each new 1,000 cases has slowed slightly as the number of new cases each week has slowed. Hospitalizations have also slowed and the number of patients currently hospitalized has dropped. His chart shows that the decline in new cases started just after the implementation of the mask requirement and our projection for hospitalizations is much better than it was just a few weeks ago.
When asked, Dr. Buchanan said there is no link locally between positivity rate and recommended actions. She said the health department has a harder time getting positive rate results for all testing. It was noted that some people are asking to have a number, based on some metric, that would signal a change in requirements. She said there is no one number. Even a surge, if it was contained, would not change the community situation. She said we are going to have to practice the five core behaviors for months.
The group discussed the current bar regulation, which was set to end at midnight tonight. Dr. Hurt said that with the return of UT students, she would like to see it continue for two weeks. Mayor Jacobs said he felt most bar owners had accepted the curfew in lieu of closures. Dr. Hurt said she had gotten emails pleading that this apply to restaurants equally.
Dr. Buchanan noted that the increases in younger cases have leveled off, but we don’t have enough data to know if it is having the desired impact. There have been only seven complaints about bars and only one of those proved to be out of compliance. Complaints should go to 311. She said there have been no clusters related to patrons at places of business. Technology is being used to connect positive cases to each other to watch for clusters.
The bar curfew was extended to September 3 by a 7 – 1 vote, with Mayor Jacobs providing the only dissenting vote.
Dr. Gotcher said that he and and Dr. Buchanan have been invited to speak to a group in Nashville and he was uncertain they would be able to make it back to the meeting. The meeting would proceed with the other members. He is hopeful the two of them could participate via zoom from Nashville. They discussed whether their meetings should go to every two weeks, but it was noted that community feedback to the idea was negative.
Dr. Hurt noted that the cluster that was reported as five positive tests among UT students from a party is now grown to 20. She pointed out that we are early into this slight reduction and the board should continue to tend more closely to the situation at this time. “Gentleman’s clubs” were brought up due to emails from employees expressing concern that they are not bars (they cannot serve alcohol), and therefore have not been restricted, but the employees are concerned for potential spread. A discussion was held as to who has authority to enforce behaviors at those clubs.
Dr. Gotcher made clear that the board does have authority to do what they have been doing, as outlined in Tennessee code. Mr. Sanders from the county law department said that is correct. TCA 68-2-601 (f) (3) is the specific statute. He made the statement in response to the numerous emails received saying they do not have the authority to make the decisions they are making. Board members expressed their appreciation to those providing feedback. Dr. Hurt noted that many people believe otherwise and it is an important point that they do, in fact, have the required authority.
It was noted that the governor’s allowance for zoom public meetings expires August 29 and that would have an impact on how the group could meet.