Today is primarily East Tennessee, we’ll zoom out to Tennessee briefly at the end.
In short today: this won’t ever be the 19218 pandemic. That doesn’t mean that it can’t get a lot more painful.
Today we are just looking at East Tennessee. Our primary data source (The COVID Tracking Project) has made some significant technical changes that it is going to require us to reconfigure a number of our reports.
The most important things to know go beyond the headline numbers and require additional context.
First, deaths and hospitalizations are arguably the most important numbers for us to track. However, (quality) hospitalization data is updated is weekly or bi-weekly. Also, hospitals don’t take patients from a single county. So, our local hospitals serve a region larger than just Knox County. As of July 14th, the hospitals systems in and around Knox Coutny had over 100 COVID-19 patients. As of today, 44 Knox County residents are hospitalized, or about 1 per 10,000 residents are actively hospitalized with COVID-19.
A few weeks ago we were told that we were posting scary graphs to social media. The graph below is a concerning graph. You can see hospitalized cases start rising significantly from mid-June. Hospitalizations lag infections by a week or two, so these July 14th numbers represent infections occurring the first week of July, when new cases per day in Knox County were probably in the 20-40 range (accounting for test lag times).
Of course, hospital capacity matters as well, as of July 14th there were a total of 690 beds available (22% capacity) in the area systems but only 24 ICU beds (9% capacity).
Those aren’t great numbers.
By the way, a note on the “surge capacity” plans on the Knox County website: those numbers were developed in March when there were no elective procedures allowed. While every hospital spokesperson we’ve heard has said that there is still capacity, the real “surge” numbers are something below what is listed online. The hospitals are currently working on updating the plan.
Our known cases are headed dramatically in the wrong direction as well, currently the 7 day average is about 100 new cases/day. A week ago we were at 72 cases/day and we were at 48 cases/day on July 7th, meaning we are doubling new cases roughly every two weeks.
But that is known cases, i.e., test results are back. Lag times in tests are so bad that last Wednesday Dr. Buchanan of the Knox County Health Department said that there were getting some results back so late that people had already finished their isolation periods! That completely undermines the idea of testing and contact tracing.
But it’s not just cases, people are dying in Knox County, too. You can see it pick up dramatically in July when supposedly only the “safe” demographic have been contracting COVID-19.
Knox County has had a pronounced shift in cases towards the 21-30 year old age group over the last few weeks. This is good news in the sense that the disease burden is significantly lower in this demographic and it has a very low hospitalization rate and death rate. However, if our total cases are quadrupling each month (two 14 day doubling periods) it won’t take long to to fill those remaining 24 ICU beds.
You can sum up the situation as this: we aren’t in an emergency today. We aren’t Florida, Texas, California, Arizona or New York. But we’re on the way there if we don’t do something to slow things down.
This isn’t a courageous position to take: in the last three weeks the governor’s office, the CDC, the Knox County Health Department and the Knox County Board of Health have all spoken about Knox county becoming a hotspot now. (The White House is also calling Sevier County a “red zone”)
The one thing that has really stood out to us since the early days of the pandemic has been the slower speed of growth Tennessee, and especially East Tennessee, than in other places. We may be doubling cases every two weeks but that’s far better than every few days, which the east coast struggled under during the spring. We still have time to improve or stabilize the situation. But don’t expect that to happen on its own.
To zoom out, the decacounty area doesn’t look much better than Knox County, however, Knox county looks like the primary driver here.
This really mirrors the growth we are seeing across the state as a whole.
Deaths continue to slowly grow, from 4/day in March and 14/day today:
Governor Lee signed executive order 54 allowing mayors in Tennessee’s 89 rural counties to introduce their own mask ordinances. The governor’s office implicitly believes that the other six counties already have this authority.
The Tennessee state of emergency currently goes through August 29th. This allows for remote notaries, electronic government meetings among other such measures.
The next Knox County Board of Health meeting is July 22nd, from 5:00-7:00pm, watch it at http://www.youtube.com/KNOXCOUNTYTN
How We Are Adjusting
We are transitioning to our Work Safe Level 2 this week, which is a more conservative stance from Level 1, where we are currently at.
Personally, we continue to get most groceries delivered and won’t inside restaurants. These numbers, for your author, rule out anything less conservative. Restaurant patios are also out for now, although curbside pickup has been great.
Get In Touch
Need help thinking this through? Access to more data? Help getting your technology in order to handle what’s here and what’s coming? Contact us today.
 The COVID Tracking Project stopped giving new deaths by day as a data column; we are presently unable to show this as a graph.
Thanks to those that have shared kind words or liked these posts. We’re doing out best to put out data-driven analysis, each one of these takes about 2 hours. It’s helpful to know that they are being read.
If you want copies of the Excel sheet and PowerBI Reports we use to put these together email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Right now, our PowerBI combines data from NYT, COVID Tracking Project, and the TN Department of Health. Most sets are updated daily