Driving the Spread

Covid Cases

Driving the Spread

Health Department statistics show adults in their prime are spreading the novel coronavirus in Knox County and throughout the state.

by scott barker • June 24, 2020
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Knox County COVID-19 Cases.

For the second consecutive day, Knox County broke its record for new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, boosting the cumulative count for the pandemic to 716. And younger adults are driving the contagion train.

Of a cumulative 741 confirmed and probable COVID-19 patients in Knox County, adults aged 18 to 64 have accounted for 603 cases.

According to the Knox County Health Department, there were 36 new cases yesterday, up from 24 on Monday. The number of active cases surged to 161. 

Charity Menefee, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness for the Health Department, said on Monday that while it’s too early to discern a pattern in the surge of cases, there is one trend that stands out. 

“I do know we’re seeing more young people,” she said. “Again, people getting out and about, and going on trips, and having parties and those types of things.”

Though seniors and people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes are most at risk of dying from COVID-19 complications, the majority of cases in Knox County have affected adults in their prime. 

Of a cumulative 741 confirmed and probable COVID-19 patients, adults aged 18 to 64 have accounted for 603 cases. Three hundred ninety-seven patients have been 18-44 years old. 

Statewide, people aged 21-40 have accounted for 15,282 cases — 42 percent of the total during the pandemic. Fifteen people in that age range have died from COVID-19 complications.

Young people are fueling increases in cases across the South, officials have said. In Mississippi, fraternity rush parties have been identified as sources of case clusters. The median age of newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients in Florida is 37, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis, and nearly two-thirds of new cases for the week of June 7 are under 45 years old.

Colleges and universities will play a major role in local infection rates when students return for the fall semester. A working paper published by researchers at Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania found that accurate testing and standard intervention methods could keep the number of infections tamped down on large university campuses.

At the University of Tennessee, two men’s basketball players have tested positive, according to the News Sentinel. The two cagers are the only Volunteer athletes to test positive for the novel coronavirus so far, and both are in isolation. UT officials did not release the name of either player.

Southeastern Conference football players have reported back to campus, with many of them testing positive for COVID-19. LSU, the defending national champion, has put more than 30 players in isolation as a result of testing. Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Auburn have had players test positive as well. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey recently said a decision about if and how the 2020 football season would proceed would be made in late July.

UT has nearly 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 9,300 faculty, staff and service employees on its flagship campus in Knoxville. Their adherence to social distancing standards, wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings will be a key to containing the spread of the virus locally.

UT’s Knoxville administrators plan to proceed to Phase Three of the university’s three-phase reopening plan on Aug. 11. The plan encourages the continuation of telework, staggered scheduling and limiting large gatherings. Temperature checks, screening questions, face coverings and social distancing measures will be emphasized.

Private businesses that rely on young adults as employees are feeling the effects. Some local restaurants that reopened when restrictions were loosened have reversed course.

In the last few days, three popular eateries — Kaizen and Tako Taco, which share the same ownership, and the Landing House in South Knoxville — announced they are temporarily closing again.

In a joint Facebook post, Kaizen and Tako Taco said, "[W]e have a couple of employees who may have had secondhand contact with a person who has recently tested positive for Covid-19. Immediately upon hearing that their acquaintance may have come in contact with said person, these employees notified us of the situation and put themselves through testing protocol at an urgent care facility here in Knox County." The restaurants said they would be closed "for at least the next few days."

The Landing House offered less specific reasons for its shutdown, saying, "Due to the recent spike in positive tested cases in Tennessee, we are taking a step back to better be able to ensure the safety of our employees and our community." 

On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said during a House hearing on Tuesday that many younger people have developed a false sense of security. “To think that young people have no deleterious consequences is not true,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more complications in young people.”