COVID-19: 12/15/2020 Update (State, Local, KCS and Today’s Health Department Briefing)

Tennessee Daily Cases 12.15.2020 (Source
Tennessee Daily Cases 12.15.2020 (Source

The Elf landed in Urban Boy’s room yesterday morning. It led to speculation: If the elf moves on his own (one theory), Urban Boy should see it, if he stayed up all night. On the other hand, if (as is the favored theory) Santa comes in and moves the elf at night, then we could have a Santa sighting. He promised to call us if that was the case. Alas, tired from a day of work and play, the young man fell asleep. The elf moved on to other parts of the home and the mystery persists. May we all have some mysterious joy in this holiday season.

State News:

The state of Tennessee reported 10,319 additional cases of COVID-19 yesterday, marking the second consecutive day over the 10,000 mark. Prior to November 16, the state had never reported a single day of over 6,000 cases. In the month since, eleven days have exceeded that total, including the last seven consecutive days.

The new cases bring the Tennessee totals to 421,528 confirmed cases and 43,096 probable cases. 394,147 people are considered to have inactive cases of the illness and 64,936 Tennesseans currently have active cases of COVID-19. The state is currently averaging 7,985 new cases each day.

Tennessee Daily Testing and Positive Test Result Rate 12.15.2020 (Source: Johns Hopkins University)

The state reported an additional 79 deaths from the virus, bringing the pandemic total to 5,541 Tennesseans who have died of the illness. The seven-day average for deaths in the state has reached 76 per day, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic. Unfortunately, as cases lead deaths by six weeks or so, the current level of new cases in the state is predictive of much higher numbers of deaths in mid-to-late January.

For the second consecutive day, the state reported an exceptionally large number of tests, providing data on over 59.5 thousand tests. As has been the case recently, the percentage of positive tests at high testing levels is very concerning and was reported as 16.46 percent within the tests reported yesterday. Johns Hopkins reports a 17.3% seven-day average for our state’s positive test rate.

R factor rating by State (See Text for Source and link)

I’ve included a couple of new graphics today to make a point. I won’t include them routinely, but I thought it important to emphasize a point: By multiple measures, Tennessee is doing worse right now than any other state in the Union. Our R rating is number one ( – the number of people each positive person infects) and our number of new cases per million is number one in the country (

What does this mean? It means that with the United States being by far the worst spot for the epidemic in the world, and Tennessee being the worst state in the union, this state is arguably the worst spot in the world for the coronavirus outbreak. Further, Knox County has recently had greater spread and higher positive test rates than the rest of the state. This single county arguably is the worst small spot on earth for this pandemic at this time.

Spread Per Million by State (See Text for Source and Link)

Given the above statement, one might hope the state and the county would be moving to take the epidemic more seriously. The biggest news continues to be the governor’s refusal to issue a mask mandate and the decision from the state that state departments of health will reduce their testing schedules.

Knox County New Daily Cases 12.15.2020 (Source: Knox County Health Department)

Local News:

Please see the final paragraph from the above section if you only read the local section. We are in a serious situation that in some respects can be characterized as the worst spot on earth for the pandemic at this time.

The Knox County Health Department reported 511 additional cases today, marking the third consecutive day the number has been above 500. Prior to these three days, the daily new case number had only crossed 400 two times, both in the month of December. The top nine daily totals have all been reported in the first fifteen days of December. These large numbers of cases will drive hospitalizations and deaths in January.

The 511 additional cases bring the county’s case totals to 24,264 confirmed cases and 1,579 probable cases. Of these, 21,319 are inactive and a pandemic record 4,301 cases are active. 122 COVID-positive Knox County residents are currently hospitalized, bringing the pandemic total to 685. The number currently hospitalized has dropped from a high of 146 on December 10. Given current ongoing case numbers, this will not hold. There is no logical way to conclude that hospitalizations have peaked.

An additional five COVID-related deaths were reported today, bringing the death toll from the pandemic in the county to 56. Half-way through the month, the number is six short of the record set last month and the rate is increasing.

In other local news, last night the Knox County Commission took another step toward removing power from the Knox County Board of Health. At the same time, the Knox County Board of Health has on its agenda for tomorrow night the possibility of petitioning the governor for more power. Also on the agenda will be the possibility of returning to stay-at-home orders.

Knox County Health Department Briefing:

Dena Mashburn chaired today’s meeting. She began with a focus on the vaccine, saying it will arrive this week and this is “incredible news.” She said deciding to take the vaccine is voluntary, but the data indicates it is safe. She pointed out that it will take months for the vaccine to be widely available in our community and we must continue to practice the five core actions.

Noting that the level of inaccurate information has been astounding throughout the pandemic, she said this will likely continue as relates to the vaccine. She encouraged people to utilize the CDC and other trusted sources.

She said the vaccine distribution plan is complicated and will first go to priority groups via hospitals and public health. We anticipate receiving the Moderna vaccine as early as next week. The number of vaccines continues to fluctuate and will only be made public as it is received. The first priority group in the state includes about 450,000 people, including health care workers and nursing home residents, etc. For “healthy 40-year-olds” a late spring or early summer vaccine is likely.

She reported the above numbers


  • With so many cities across the country getting the vaccine early in the week, why is Knoxville not getting the vaccine until late in the week? I’m not sure. Everyone can’t be the first. Those decisions are made at a national level.
  • Many of us have elderly members of the family who have been kept from contact with the rest of the family for nearly a year because of the pandemic. Once an elderly member of the family is vaccinated, is it safe to welcome them back to family dinners even if others in the gathering have not been vaccinated? We are asking that everyone continue the five core actions. No vaccine is perfect. For now, we need to wait until we are certain.
  • After being vaccinated, is it necessary to continue wearing a mask? If so, why? Yes.
  • The announcement was made yesterday at the state level that testing hours will be reduced at local health departments. How much impact will this have on total state testing? Is now the time to reduce testing? We are still making a plan for how we are going to handle that. It is a concern. We need to focus on vaccine distribution. Testing is available elsewhere. Many of the same staff do both.
  • Are the home collection kits the state is promoting as accurate as the tests administered by the Health Department? Not answered.
  • How involved in the county in the state vaccine plan? We are the local entity to execute the plan.
  • How closely do the county’s speak to each other to coordinate? Daily.
  • How is Dr. Buchanan? Doing well.
  • How will the vaccine be distributed initially? We will be given by us, not distributed.
  • What should people be doing if they want to celebrate with family at Christmas? Please don’t gather outside your household?
  • Christmas parties a good idea? No.
  • How does the notification process work? We will reach out directly to nursing homes, etc.
  • A recent report showed east Tennessee as the highest rate of spread in the world. Can you comment? I didn’t see the report, but the increase, hospitalizations and deaths are rising rapidly.
  • Will the vaccines be given at the Health Department or elsewhere? Probably all of the above over the next months.
  • Why are Tennessee cases rising so much more rapidly than other places? Social interactions.
  • Will test-return time get slower as the emphasis switches? It may. Seek other sources if possible.
  • What are the biggest current challenges? Misinformation. Please seek out good studies from highly regarded sources.
  • Why does the vaccine require two does? The first alerts your system and the second mounts the response.
  • What would you say to Dr. Buchanan coming down with the illness when she presumably was following the five core actions? Community spread is very wide right now. The five core actions can improve your chances of avoiding the illness.
  • What happens if someone misses the second vaccine, what happens? They need to get it. The two also must match versions (Moderna, Pfizer, etc.)
  • Will additional security be necessary for the vaccines? We’ve talked about it. We think the community will work with us.
Knox County Schools Active Cases 12.15.2020 (Source: Knox County Schools)

Knox County Schools News:

With all Knox County Schools moved to virtual instruction, it is unclear if they will continue collecting data, stop reporting or continue to let the number of active and isolated staff and students dwindle as they are removed from those lists. I’ll watch it and continue reporting if the information keeps flowing.

For today, the school system site is showing 194 active cases (down from 248 yesterday), 1,387 recovered, and 2,259 (down from 2,928 yesterday) isolated or quarantined.