Knox County has confirmed its first presumptive case of the coronavirus as the number of cases doubled to 18 in Tennessee on Thursday.
Davidson, Knox, Shelby, Sullivan, and Williamson counties are all now reporting cases.
The Knox County Health Department said it received confirmation of the county's first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 Thursday. It said it is still awaiting results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but will treat the case as positive and follow guidelines to protect public health and limit the spread of infection.
“Knox County has been preparing for the possibility of a case of COVID-19 since it was first reported in the United States,” said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. “Our Knox County Health Department is coordinating our response efforts and will continue to work to reduce the spread of infection and protect the health of all people in Knox County.”
KCHD said the person was exposed to the virus overseas and is an isolated case. The person has been in isolation since they returned and has not required hospitalization.
"We understand the concern surrounding COVID-19, but we hope Knox County citizens can take some comfort in the fact that we were expecting a case, and that we routinely utilize extensive plans and national best practice to respond to all reportable infectious diseases in Knox County,” said KCHD Senior Director Dr. Martha Buchanan. “The most important thing the public can do is to follow the CDC guidance, which includes the standard hygiene practices we recommend to prevent the spread of flu and other viruses.”
COVID-19 is not currently widespread in Knox County or Tennessee, but Buchanan said they are anticipating more cases locally. Health leaders are asking people to take the illness seriously and to limit their exposure to large groups, wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, and to follow the CDC's guidance.
"It takes all of us to prevent illness. This is the time to be diligent, to be thoughtful, but not to be panicked," she said.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency Thursday morning. The governor said the move will allow federal emergency funds to flow into the state to help mitigate and treat the disease.
"We know this is serious. We also know this is especially serious for neighbors who are elderly. This is why we should all take this seriously even if you are not in the vulnerable population," Gov. Lee said.
Vulnerable populations include older adults and those with immune and respiratory diseases. Gov. Lee encouraged Tennesseans to avoid non-essential visits to nursing homes and hospitals.
The TDH said it will now post COVID-19 updates online at 2 p.m. CT each day at this link.
Several events locally and across the United States have been canceled or postponed to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control awarded more than $10 million to support the state's COVID-19 response. The money is part of more than $560 million be given to state and local jurisdictions.
The State Public Health Laboratory is now running COVID-19 testing seven days a week to assist public health authorities and health care workers in identifying cases and treating individuals.
After concerns about the department's announcement that it would no longer release counties of residence for confirmed cases, officials update the policy to balance transparency and patient privacy.
“TDH will release counties of residence for all confirmed cases, but will not include further identifying factors like age or gender as we balance transparency with our obligation to lawfully protect patient privacy,“ said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “While the department’s standard protocol for outbreaks is to announce information by region, we understand COVID-19 is an evolving situation presenting unique concerns for our communities.“
TDH Recommended Precautions
Tennesseans are encouraged to take routine precautions used in guarding against respiratory viruses:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
• Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
• Stay home if you are sick
• Stay away from people who are sick
Most patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection have mild respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. A smaller number of patients have severe symptoms requiring hospitalization.
COVID-19 Information Line
TDH has launched a Tennessee Coronavirus Public Information Line in partnership with the Tennessee Poison Center. The number is 877-857-2945 and is available daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central time.
In Knox County, the health department has established a COVID-19 public information line effective Wednesday. People can call 865-215-5555 or toll-free at 888-288-6022. The information line will be available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The University of Tennessee has also launched a coronavirus website for students, faculty and staff to check updates as senior leadership and offices work together to develop actions and procedures.