Tennessee’s surge of new coronavirus cases shows no sign of slowing down, with 1,575 new cases announced Thursday — the second-highest single-day total thus far — that drove the state’s number of active cases of the virus to 17,332, a new high.
In Scott County, the trend continues to be bucked. Officially, there are two active cases of coronavirus in the local community. But while the TN Dept. of Health reported the 15th local case on Wednesday, the Scott County Health Department has determined that the latest case is someone who doesn’t actually reside in Scott County; instead, they used their Scott County address when they were tested. As a result, the health department’s Kerri Hamby told Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals on Thursday morning, the state Dept. of Health will be removing that case from the local tally.
With that case accounted for, there is only one active case of Covid-19 illness in Scott County. That case was reported two weeks ago. But elsewhere in Tennessee, new cases continue to surge, and hospitalizations are also rapidly increasing. The Dept. of Health reported 11 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, along with 60 new hospitalizations.
Thursday marked the ninth straight day of an average of 55 new hospitalizations per day. As a result, the state’s cumulative hospitalizations — patients who are currently in the hospital — has soared to 632, easily the highest number since the pandemic began. The number of cumulative hospitalizations has increased a whopping 41% since June 22.
Even still, Tennessee’s rate of hospitalizations remains lower than the historical average. Since June 22, the number of new hospitalizations equates to 4.2% of new cases. Overall, since the beginning of the pandemic, 5.9% of Tennessee’s diagnosed coronavirus cases have resulted in hospitalization.
That comparison isn’t scientific; there is a lag time between diagnoses and hospitalizations. But the rising hospitalizations and the overwhelming number of new cases has leaders in more locales taking action to combat the spread of the virus.
Controversy has emerged in Knox County, where the county’s health board voted almost unanimously Wednesday to require everyone in the county to wear masks when in the presence of others, with some exceptions — such as when eating or drinking, or when in church. But county mayor Glenn Jacobs cast a dissenting vote, and blasted the vote as unconstitutional.
“While Covid-19 is a serious issue, government has way overreached throughout this episode,” Jacobs said on the conservative social media network Parler Wednesday night. “We have set the precedent that government can do virtually anything in an emergency, limitations be damned. I guess I never saw the part of the Constitution that says, ‘in case of an emergency, none of this counts.'”
Jacobs, a staunch libertarian who entered the political realm after being better known as WWE star Kane, is being touted in some circles as a potential 2022 primary challenger for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who has in his own right resisted calls for a mask mandate for the entire state.
While Knoxville joins Nashville and Memphis as Tennessee’s largest cities requiring masks for residents, Jacobs has a key ally in his stance against masks: Knox County Sheriff Tim Spangler has indicated that he will not enforce the requirement.
“There are serious questions as to the constitutionality of the order made by the health board,” Spangler said in a statement. “My deputies are sworn to support and defend the constitution. We will rely on the citizens of this community to protect themselves and others in the manner they find appropriate.”
While the Knox County Sheriff’s Office will not enforce the health board’s mandate, it’s likely that the Knoxville Police Department will. Unlike the sheriff’s office, which is directed by an independent, elected administrator in the sheriff, the police department is under the direct supervision of the city’s mayor, Indya Kincannon.
Meanwhile, questions of the constitutionality of mask mandates remain. The Knox County Law Department advised the county’s board of health against the mask order, and Gov. Lee has said he is awaiting word on the constitutionality of such orders — which could be an indication that he is leaning towards a mask mandate for the entire state.
There were 323 active cases of coronavirus in Knox County on Thursday, according to the county’s health department. There are 18 people hospitalized with coronavirus in the county, including five new hospitalizations in the past 24 hours. Also, the county recorded its first Covid-19 death since April. There have now been six people who have died of coronavirus in Knox County.
New cases also continue to surge in Sevier County, which now has 322 active cases.
In Hamblen County, another East Tennessee county that is seeing an alarming rise in cases, there are now 151 active cases.
Sevier and Hamblen counties are experiencing the fastest rate of increase of Covid-19 cases in East Tennessee.
In Putnam County, there are now more than 200 active cases, after the spread of the virus had ebbed there for a few weeks. Neighboring Cumberland County is up to 48 active cases.
Closer to home, there are 32 active cases in Anderson County — a number that has not changed in the past 48 hours. But Campbell County is up to 10 active cases, its highest total since the pandemic arrived in East Tennessee. There are five active cases in Fentress County, three in Morgan County and two in Pickett County.