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Knox Co. Board of Health moves to monthly meetings, extends alcohol curfew to 12 a.m. – WBIR.com

Posted: February 25, 2021 at 6:46 am


As of Wednesday, the number of new COVID-19 cases also remained under 100 in Knox County.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. The Knox County Board of Health voted to extend COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday. They also extended the time that businesses can stay open, pushing the alcohol curfew back to 12 a.m.

The change goes into effect Thursday evening. It passed with a vote of 9-1, and Dr. Dianna Drake voted against it.

The alcohol curfew and social gathering are now set to expire on March 18, unless the board decides to extend it again at their next meeting. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs voted against extending the social gathering limit.

The county's mask mandate is also still in effect after board members decided to let it continue. It does not have an expiration date.

Dr. Martha Buchanan also proposed moving to monthly meetings instead of meeting every other week and pushing back the time the board meets. She said that the proposal was in anticipation of Governor Bill Lee's State of Emergency possibly expiring.

The proposals passed unanimously. The board will meet again on March 17.

Knox County COVID-19 Benchmarks and Data

Dr. Martha Buchanan, the director of the Knox County Health Department, gave a presentation on the county's COVID-19 data. She said that they are currently vaccinating K-12 teachers, healthcare staff and people who are 65 years old and over.

"There are thousands of more people who are eligible to receive the vaccine, however, eligibility doesn't mean access," Buchanan said.

She said that 84,920 vaccinations were reported in Knox County, and 28,933 residents received their second dose of the vaccine. She said that the health department receives around 5,000-7,000 doses per week and that the number is slowly going up.

Buchanan said that 54 Knox County residents were hospitalized, and the department reported two more deaths due to COVID-19.

The benchmark for new cases was set to 'green' as the average number of cases remained low over the past months, Buchanan said. She also said people should continue following the five-core actions to prevent the number from rising. It was the first time benchmark was green since September, Dr. Jack Gotcher said.

The community testing benchmark also remained 'yellow' as testing stayed low, possibly indicating a lower amount of the coronavirus in the community. Turnaround time for tests remained at less than one-and-a-half days as well.

Public health capability was set to 'yellow' after the health department reworked how it was reported. It examines the full public health system, instead of just Knox County. The department also implemented information about vaccines into the benchmark.

Healthcare system capabilities remained in current surge capacities as hospitalizations fell in Knox County. After speaking with hospital partners, Buchanan said they recommended the benchmark be set to 'green.'

The death rate benchmark remained 'yellow.'

Buchanan also said that the department worked to find a spot to regularly distribute vaccines, which would allow people to flow through and which had a lot of parking. The team decided to host clinics at an old Food City location on North Broadway.

"Basically, it's a home where we could put a lot of people through there and not have to schedule on someone else's schedule," Buchanan said.

She said that Johnson & Johnson doses, which the FDA is expected to approve for use, will continue to trickle in similar to other vaccines.

Dr. James Shamiyeh presented about health care capabilities in East Tennessee and said that Knox County is one of the more stable regions in the state.

He said that all age demographics remained steady and low for new cases and that the county's positivity rate remained around 14%. The rate of new hospitalizations was also stable, he said.

He also said that hospitals have seen almost no influenza cases.

Dr. Spencer Gregg spoke about COVID-19 at the University of Tennessee. He said that the positivity rate for on-campus residents remained less than 1% and that much of the data reflected the Knoxville community.

The university plans to host vaccination events for anyone who is eligible to receive one.

Lisa Wagoner also presented about Knox County Schools. She said that there were less than 100 cases in the system this week and that they started a vaccine rollout at the East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs thanks educators for the work they did throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schedule for Future Meetings

Buchanan urged board members to create a plan on how to hold meetings if Governor Bill Lee's order declaring a State of Emergency in Tennessee expires. It requires them to meet virtually, and they could meet in-person if the order expires.

She proposed shifting to monthly meetings and pushing the meeting time back, instead of meeting every other week. Buchanan also urged members to find a physical space.

The main assembly room in the City-County Building has partitions set up to protect people from COVID-19, David Sanders said.

However, Buchanan urged people to sit farther apart than usual if meeting return to in-person.

Other members urged pushing the start time to 5:30 p.m. if they return to in-person.

"I would be comfortable meeting monthly," Shamiyeh said. "I would want the ability to adjust back to every two weeks, and if that means we need to change venues, we can change around that. But based on where we are right now, I'd be okay with it."

Dr. Souza also said she would be okay with the change, as long as the board would be able to return to meetings every other week if needed.

"It's easier for us to do Zoom, but we understand if that order expires then in-person meetings are probably warranted," said Gotcher.

He also said that the board should continue to monitor the county's positivity rates, in case they reach a point when restrictions could be lifted immediately.

COVID-19 Restrictions Discussion

The board decided to allow the mask mandate to continue in Knox County.

"Mask wearing is going to be one of our last things to recommend going away," Buchanan said. "Mask wearing is now part of our vernacular for preventing COVID-19."

Shamiyeh said that the threshold for herd immunity is lower when mitigation efforts, such as mask-wearing, are still in place. So, he said that continuing with a mask mandate can help communities reach herd immunity faster.

"I know people want it to go away," Buchanan said. "People don't want cases to go back up, and we can't have both."

Patrick O'Brien said that other metro areas in Tennessee have amended their alcohol curfews and occupancy restrictions, and urged the board to consider changing the curfew to 12 a.m. instead of 11 p.m.

Shamiyeh said that after the curfew was first pushed back to 11 p.m., cases continued to trend downward. O'Brien also said that every hour is helpful to businesses and that the county should allow them to stay open for longer if it is possible.

Anticipation for End of State of Emergency

Sanders said that, in essence, Gov. Lee's executive orders give the board authority to be less stringent than the state when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Knox County Board of Health is governed under statute, which gives authority to the board to adopt rules and regulations as may be necessary. He said that it does not matter if the executive orders expire, since the board will still have that authority.

The orders instead allow the board to issue restrictions for COVID-19 greater or lesser than what the state has in place.

He said that if the executive orders are not renewed, then the board can adopt rules and measures as may be necessary according to state law.

Sanders said that the state statute which gives the Knox County Board of Health its authority was in place before the framework for locally-run boards of health, which can lead to complications.

O'Brien also said that there was an incorrect time written in one of the board's earlier meetings, and proposed that the board fix the typo.

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Knox Co. Board of Health moves to monthly meetings, extends alcohol curfew to 12 a.m. - WBIR.com

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