COVID-19 Update: 2/15/2021 (International, National, Local, KCS, UTK)

Tennessee Daily Cases 2.15.2021 (Source: TN.gov)
Worldwide Daily Cases 2.15.2021 (Source: Worldometers)

Welcome, everyone, to a fresh week and the second half of February. We are fast approaching the anniversary of the point at which we realized something weird was about to happen. A year ago this past weekend, I was enjoying parades, traditional ceremonies, Mardi Gras Indians and having a blast at the annual celebration in Mobile, Alabama. It seems like a distant time in a far-away universe at this point. May we soon say, “Laissez le bon temp rouler,” and rejoin the dance.

International News:

About 109.4 million people across the world have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, including about 2.7 million people in the last week. New cases, while remaining at a higher rate than through most of the pandemic, are slowing. The seven-day average has dropped to just over 385,000 cases per day from about 451,000 per day a week ago. The daily average peaked on January 11 at just over 745,000 new cases per day.

About 81.5 million people are considered recovered, while just under 25.4 million people have an active case of the virus. As the rate of new cases drop, so do the number of active cases. This week’s number represents about 400,000 fewer active cases than the same day last week. The number of active international cases peaked January 30 at just under 26.1 million. Though slight, this marks the first decline in active cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Over 2.4 million people have died of the virus, including about 78.9 thousand in the last week. International deaths have been in steady decline since January 26 and the total dead this week is about 7,800 fewer than last week. The average number of deaths, now at 11,265, sat at 12,524 a week ago and 14,438 per day at its peak. The current rate is similar to that in early January.

Worldwide Daily Deaths 2.15.2021 (Worldometers)

To spotlight a single day as a sample, yesterday 292,613 cases were reported, about 53,100 fewer than the same day a week earlier. 6,910 deaths from the virus were reported, down over 850 from the same day the previous week. The same five countries produced the most deaths for the day and in the same sequence. For the second consecutive week and the first time in many months, the U.S. is not at the top of the list. The countries producing the most deaths yesterday: Mexico (1,214), the U.S. (1,111), Brazil (647), Russia (430), and the U.K. (258).

Seven countries produced more than 10,000 new cases, while 42 countries produced at least 1,000. The numbers are down from 9 and 47, respectively, last week. Mexico and Indonesia dropped off the list (though not far below it). The top countries in new cases for the day included the U.S. (64,297), Brazil (23,258), France (16,546), Russia (14,185), India (11,432), Italy (11,068), and the U.K. (10,972).

Evidence is mounting that the UK variant produces more hospitalizations and deaths. The UK is enforcing a 10-day hotel quarantine on visitors from thirty-three different countries. Just as it was poised to open its ski slopes, Italy reversed course after new variants were found in the region. Course will remain closed into March.

On the positive side, Israel has now vaccinated enough people that real-world data is emerging about the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine and they are finding it very effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. Vaccine passports constitute a rising point of discussion, with a WHO representative calling them “likely.” Japan starts its national vaccination program this week.

U.S. Daily Cases 2.15.2021 (Source: Worldometers)

National News:

The United States has reported close to 28.3 million cases of COVID-19, up about 700,000 in the past week. The previous week produced closer to 800,000 new cases. Just over 18.2 million Americans are considered recovered, while over 9.5 million have an active case of the virus. The active case number dropped about 300,000 from the same day last week. Over 497,000 Americans have died of the virus, including 17,984 this past week, or about 3,100 fewer than the week before.

Yesterday, 64,297 new cases were reported, along with 1,111 deaths. Relative to the same day a week earlier, new cases dropped by over 25,000, or nearly 30%, while deaths declined by about 230. This continues the trend of dramatic declines in cases and sees the beginning of a similar sharp decline in deaths. The average number of new daily cases has declined from 116,256 a week ago, to 92,487 currently. The current average is roughly where it was November 4.

The decline in daily deaths, which would be anticipated to follow the sharp decline in new cases, has now clearly arrived. Deaths in the U.S. are currently averaging 2,569, down from 3,020 just a week earlier. The average peaked on January 27, at 3,428 deaths per day. Daily deaths are now their lowest since December 31.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in cases (28.3 million to India’s 10.9 million) and deaths (497.2 thousand to Brazil’s 239.3) and the lead continues to expand. Among countries with at least 1 million in population, the U.S. remains third in the world in per capita cases behind Czechia and Slovenia.

U.S. Daily Deaths 2.15.2021 (Source: Worldometers)

Among the same group, the U.S. ranks 8th worst in the world in per capita deaths. The U.S. leads the world in tests given (335.1 million), but ranks 7th in per capita testing. Among populous countries, the US. ranks second in percentage of its population who are fully vaccinated (4.2%) behind Israel (28.5%). A week earlier, the U.S. had fully vaccinated 2.8% of its population.

Three states reported more than 100 deaths yesterday, the same three as was the case last week on the same day: California (200), Texas (129), and New York (122). Nine states reported multiple thousands of new cases yesterday, down from eighteen the previous week and twenty-one states reported at least 1,000 new cases, down from twenty-two the week before. The order shuffled and South Carolina replaced North Carolina in the top five: New York (7,219), California (5,787), Florida (5,436), Texas (4,375) and South Carolina (4,153).

The same five states lead in per capita cases: North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah and Tennessee. The same five states also lead in per capita deaths: New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Rhode Island. Tennessee continues to rank 19th in per capita deaths, with 1,601 per million. Alaska leads in percentage of citizens with a first vaccine at 17% and for fully vaccinated at 7.8%. Tennessee dropped from 44th to 48th in first vaccinations and from 9th to 18th in fully vaccinated comparisons.

Chain pharmacies are starting to offer COVID-19 vaccinations. The rollout is starting with 1 million vaccines distributed nationally in what will likely be a slow and uneven start. Vaccine shortages continue to plague states even as more people are classified as eligible, with some mass vaccination sites ready to go, but unable to get enough supply. Opening schools has been a priority at every level, including with the new administration, but that is proving difficult as schools do not have adequate resources to replicate CDC guidelines for doing so safely.

Some of the resources to open schools would be provided by the relief package currently sitting in congress. It also contains a second round of stimulus payments which are currently being negotiated. Late March appears to be earliest the money might land in American hands. Here’s the latest on that.

The biggest puzzle, as I’ve watched the dramatic, sudden drop in cases over the last  five weeks is the question of why it happened when it did. It happened before adequate distribution of the vaccine to be an explanation. Here’s an article that takes a stab at an answer, claiming that the explanation lies in masking and distancing. While I have no doubt that these practices have kept the pandemic from being worse, I haven’t seen any indication that a sudden spike in masking and distancing happened in early January. That we don’t know, is a concern because the same variable could reverse our course. The hope is vaccination distribution outpaces any new threat.

Tennessee Daily Cases 2.15.2021 (Source: TN.gov)

State News:

Since the last article, the state of Tennessee reported 2,246 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, 1,792 on Saturday, and 1,347 on Sunday. In total, it’s about 2,800 fewer than the previous weekend. The average for daily new cases has fallen to 1,831, 560 fewer than the same day last week, and the lowest the average has been since October 9. State totals have reached 637,753 confirmed cases and 119,665 probable cases.

722,598 Tennesseans have inactive cases of the virus, while 23,887 state residents current have an active case of COVID-19. While the decline of active cases in the state has slowed, it continues. The current number is about 4,800 fewer than a week earlier on the same day, and is the lowest it has been since November 6 (23,211).

An additional 28  COVID-positive Tennesseans were hospitalized yesterday, twice the number of the same day a week earlier, but far below numerous recent days. 17,997 have been hospitalized in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. The decline in current hospitalizations continues at a rapid, if somewhat slower pace, with 1,107 currently hospitalized, compared to 1,310 just a week ago. 299 COVID-positive Tennesseans are currently in ICUs and 176 are currently on ventilator’s, with both numbers also declining, though more slowly.

Tennessee Daily Testing and Positive Test Rate 2.15.2021 (Source: Johns Hopkins University)

Deaths are now in decline in the state, as well. Since the last article, the state reported 81 deaths on Friday, 9 on Saturday, and 31 on Sunday. This is less than half the previous weekend. The state is now averaging 66 deaths each day, down from 117 a week earlier. The daily average peaked on February 5, roughly a month after the post-holiday peak in cases. Deaths are now roughly comparable to late January.

Testing levels ranged from about 15,000 to about 25,000 over the weekend, about 5,000 a day lower than the prior weekend. The positive test rate for yesterday was reported at 7.4%, while Johns Hopkins University reports a 9.4% seven-day average for test positivity in the state. This is one of the strongest indicators that spread has dropped dramatically in the state, particularly since we’ve achieved these numbers at a much lower testing volume.

The state has now crossed the million-shot threshold, with 1,020,841 vaccinations administered through yesterday. 6,102 were administered yesterday, with 180,072 the previous seven days. The rate has roughly stabilized, with over 176,400 administered the previous week. 330,178 Tennesseans have gotten both doses of the vaccine, up about 70,000 from the previous week. At the current rate, every Tennessean could be vaccinated in the next 491 days, or by June 21, 2022.

As always, remember: This is based on the entire population of the state and 1) Children are not currently planned for vaccination, 2) Not all adults will choose to be vaccinated, and 3) Not everyone has to be vaccinated for the virus to be more-or-less defeated.

Knox County Daily Cases 2.15.2021 (Source: Knox County Health Department)

Local News:

In the three days since the last report, the Knox County Health Department has reported 120 new cases on Saturday, 101 new cases on Sunday and 111 new cases today. The total of 332, shows a decline from the previous two weekends, each of which had totals just over 400. That said, the number of new daily cases in the county has fallen between 100 and 200 for the last 13 days.

New pandemic totals for the county include 38,931 confirmed cases and 6,420 probable cases. Active cases continue to decline, with 2,018 Knox County residents currently COVID-positive, about 300 less than the same day the previous week. It’s the smallest number of active cases in the county since December 6 (1,982).

Local hospitalizations seem to have stabilized for the time, with 62 COVID-positive Knox County residents currently hospitalized. A week earlier, the number was 58. The total number of Knox County residents hospitalized with the virus during the pandemic has now reached 1,201.

Deaths have cleared declined at this time, with the health department reporting two over the weekend. One person who died was between the ages of 65 and 74, while the other was 75 or older. 515 people have died of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Three people have died in the last four days. The last time four days produced three or fewer deaths was in late October.

The most recent local vaccination data was updated 2/12 and indicated 62,349 total vaccinations have been given in the county. 42,966 county residents have had one dose, while an additional 19,301 residents have gotten both doses. 9.14% of all county residents have gotten at least one dose.

In other local news, Mayor Jacobs has asked an outside auditing firm to investigate the 975 lost vaccinations. This comes after the KPD, at Dr. Buchannan’s request, opened their own investigation. No one has alleged a deliberate act in the loss, but all parties say they want to understand what happened. While the assumption that the vaccines were accidentally thrown away by an employee has been widely reported, I was told directly by KCHD representatives that they do not know this to be true. Here’s the quote of their response to me:

We have been told by the state that vaccine arrived here, but we have no confirmation or documentation of delivery nor did anyone see the vaccine. Additionally, we do not have information regarding the status of the GPS tracker, which should be tracking the location and temperature of the vaccines in question.

The state is reporting a 13.3% positive test rate for Knox County.

Knox County Schools Active Cases 2.15.2021 (Source: Knox County Schools)

Knox County Schools News:

As of Friday afternoon, the Knox County School system reported 172 active cases of COVID-19 among students and staff, down from 183 the previous day. Of these, 124 are students and 48 are staff members. 3,022 have recovered from the illness and 2,103 are currently in quarantine or isolation, including 1,894 students and 209 staff members. This number is down about 140 from the previous day.

The metric for staff attendance has returned to yellow from green, joining custodial support at that level. Substitute availability remains red and all other metrics remain green. As of Friday afternoon, only one school remained on virtual-only status:

Vine Middle – February 16

University of Tennessee Active Cases 2.12.2021 (Source: University of Tennessee)

University of Tennessee News:

Active case numbers have dipped slightly at the University of Tennessee to 83, including 68 students and 15 staff members. The number was 94 as of Friday. 2,771 students and staff have recovered and 20 additional cases were confirmed over the weekend.

279 students and staff are currently in quarantine or isolation, including 53 staff members, 151 residential students and 75 non-residential students. The number has remained remarkably steady since the beginning of second semester. No additional clusters were identified.

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