Note: This story was last updated at 7:10 p.m.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee declared a state of emergency to help treat and contain COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, and the first case has been diagnosed in Knox County.
The Knox County patient was exposed overseas and is an isolated case. The person has been in isolation and has not required hospitalization, according to the Knox County Health Department.
It’s a presumptive positive case, and local and state officials are waiting for confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Following standard public health protocols for infectious disease response, Knox County Health Department said its epidemiologists will work with the Tennessee Department of Health and follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contact and monitor anyone who may have been exposed to this isolated case. Eighteen cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health, but it is not currently widespread in Knox County or the state.
“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.”
While symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe, the vast majority of cases are mild, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Fever and respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath, are some of the common symptoms. Other typical cold symptoms such as runny nose and a sore throat are generally not associated with COVID-19.
The total number of cases in Tennessee has jumped from three on Sunday to 18 on Thursday, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. There are eight cases in Williamson County south of Nashville; six in Davidson County, which includes Nashville; two in Shelby County, which includes Memphis in west Tennessee; and one each in Sullivan and Knox counties.
The Tennessee State Public Health Laboratory has completed 88 COVID-19 tests, and 79 were negative while nine were positive. The other nine positive results came from commercial and private laboratories.
The Knox County case is the second case reported in East Tennessee. The first case was reported earlier this week in Sullivan County in upper East Tennessee.
The virus has infected more than 100,000 people in more than 100 countries around the world and killed more than 4,000. There are more than 1,000 cases in the United States, and 38 people are reported to have died.
“While the risk to the general public remains low, we encourage all Tennesseans to exercise caution and maintain good hygiene practices as there are serious risks to our vulnerable populations,” Lee said in the press release. “We will continue to evaluate and adapt our position accordingly to fit what we believe is best for Tennesseans.”
The best precautions the public can take are simple, but they are important and effective:
- Wash your hands regularly
- Stay home if you are sick
- Avoid contact with those who are sick
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze/cough
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Get a flu shot if you haven’t already
In addition to responding to thousands of infectious diseases cases annually, KCHD’s epidemiology and emergency response teams also routinely prepare for public health threats and will continue to protect the health and safety of people in Knox County, the press release said.
KCHD has launched a COVID-19 Public Information Line. The hotline number is (865) 215-5555, or people may call toll-free at (888) 288-6022. The information line will be available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.
Lee said the the state of emergency he declared Thursday will allow the state to use emergency funds as necessary and relax provisions of certain laws to provide the flexibility needed to respond to COVID-19. But the press release didn’t elaborate on which provisions of which laws, or how they would be “relaxed.”
The state of emergency was declared in Executive Order Number 14. The order:
- implements the Tennessee Emergency Management Plan;
- permits health care professionals licensed in other states to provide health care services in Tennessee related to COVID-19;
- allows pharmacists to dispense an extra 30-day supply of maintenance prescriptions as needed in response to COVID-19;
- allows health care professionals to provide localized treatment to patients in temporary residences;
- expands testing sites for COVID-19;
- allows the construction of temporary health care structures in response to COVID-19;
- implements price gouging protections on medical and emergency supplies;
- suspends restrictions on vehicles transporting emergency supplies to areas affected by COVID-19;
- permits the waiver of certain regulations on child care centers as needed to respond to the effect of COVID-19;
- authorizes TennCare policy changes to ensure that covered individuals receive medically necessary services without disruption; and
- directs coordination with health insurance plans to improve access to screening, testing, and treatment for COVID-19.
“Vulnerable populations should stay home where possible and avoid large gatherings or locations where they are more likely to contact the virus,” the press release said. “Vulnerable populations include older adults and adults with underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illness. Non-essential visits to nursing homes and hospitals are strongly discouraged.”
The full text of Executive Order No. 14 can be found here.
Up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Tennessee can be found here.
Learn more on the Knox County Health Department website here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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