The Knox County Board of Health held their weekly meeting over Zoom on Wednesday afternoon to share their benchmark data as well as hold a discussion of various COVID-19 regulations in the county.
Mayor of Knoxville, Indya Kincannon, Mayor of Knox County, Glenn Jacobs, Chief of Police Eve Thomas and UTK Chancellor Donde Plowman were also present at this meeting.
After a call to order, a roll call, establishment of quorum, approval of minutes and setting of the agenda, the meeting began with Dr. Martha Buchanan’s presentation of the health department’s benchmark data.
Data shared by Dr. Buchanan included 66 new cases today making 2,024 total active cases. Buchanan added that the 14 to 22 age group comprises the most cases in the community.
“We are still concerned that folks are not getting tested when they should be,” Buchanan said.
Dr. James Shamiyeh then shared the benchmark data from the University of Tennessee Medical Center Knoxville, comparing age group data as well as comparing counties surrounding Knox County, as has been done in previous meetings.
“The less of a handle we have on who has COVID and which age groups have it, the more unpleasant surprises we get from a healthcare infrastructure perspective,” Shamiyeh said.
Chancellor Plowman and Dr. Spencer Gregg then presented on education institution and their meetings with Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House this week.
Plowman shared that, at UT, there were 24 new cases yesterday, there are 1,784 people in isolation and when Massey was tested 7-8% of residents were positive. She also added that there is a plan for PCR testing in Magnolia Hall.
“This has been hard for students, but I’ll tell you their resilience has been great and so has their positivity and willingness to accept this,” Plowman said.
Chancellor Plowman shared that from her discussions with Dr. Birx, she believes two things will help bring down positive rates: continuing the mask mandate and no alcohol sales past 10 p.m.
“While people in the community have around four to six contacts, UT students have around 20, so their quarantine ratio is much higher,” Buchanan said.
Lisa Wagoner then shared data from Knox County schools, including active cases, COVID dashboard, recovered cases, isolation rates and teacher absences.
Chief Thomas expressed that in terms of enforcement, the main focus of the police department has been education until this point, and that enforcement such as citations or fines would need more clarification on the definition of a bar, but that she intends to work with the board for effective enforcement.
There was discussion about benchmarks and the impacts on the mask mandate, including the thresholds that will need to be met in order to roll back the mask mandate, where Buchanan and Shamiyeh shared their thoughts.
“Even if we take the mask mandate away, the need for masks, the need to social distance, wash our hands and stay home when we’re sick will still be there,” Buchanan said.
Then, discussion was opened about restriction of all alcohol sales and consumption after 10 p.m. Dr. Patrick O’Brien shared that he witnessed bars open on Cumberland, with large numbers of students congregating around bars. He suggested a regulation in which establishments that serve alcohol sales will close after 10 p.m. for four week.
Mayor Glenn Jacobs shared concerns over both the financial consequences and the enforcement of an alcohol regulation, and Dr. Maria Hurt expressed her own perspective on the burden of restrictions.
“We’re all painfully aware that any restrictions will impact our fellow citizens, and we do not make these lightly,” Hurt said.
The board talked about the possibility of an 11 p.m. curfew for alcohol consumption at length, eventually deciding to pass the amendment, with 11 p.m. being the new curfew, also adding a friendly amendment to change the wording from cease of sales to closure.
The next Board of Health meeting will take place next Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.