The TN Dept. of Health reported another positive case of coronavirus in Scott County on Monday — the 11th case in a 6-day span dating back to the middle of last week — as the worsening outbreak continued to hit home.
Like the cases that came before it, little is known about Scott County’s latest case. Health officials are reticent to release too many details, due to HIPAA restrictions that stipulate patient privacy.
However, there are increasing levels of illness in Scott County, even aside from the confirmed coronavirus cases. Health care teams are reporting rising numbers of sick people. But, as is the case across much of Tennessee, the wait times for coronavirus test results are increasing. There is so much testing going on — the state Dept. of Health reported 35,000 new test results Monday alone — that there are backlogs of tests waiting to be processed. Hospitals are given top priority, which means primary care clinics are sometimes being forced to wait several days for results.
Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals, who stays in constant contact with the local health department, said that health officials are eyeing various ways that people are being exposed to the virus.
“We have a mixture of possible exposures, but many of the new cases do not have a specific cause of exposure that stands out yet,” Tibbals told the Independent Herald Monday. “So we are advising extreme caution when traveling or even when out and about locally.”
Tibbals has steadfastly urged Scott Countians to take precautions to limit the spread of the virus. Among the tips he offers on social media daily: Avoid touching your nose and mouth, stay home when sick, wash your hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid contact with those who are sick, practice social distancing, and wear a mask in the company of others — even though it may be inconvenient.
While most people diagnosed with coronavirus prefer to remain beneath the radar, one of the new cases chose to speak out on Monday. Dr. Allison Gilbert, who along with her husband, Dr. Scott Gilbert, is one of the faces of South Fork Physical Therapy, was hospitalized on Sunday with the virus.
“Over the last few months I have read many posts about how this is all fake and it’s no big deal and it’s just made up to control us,” Gilbert said in a Facebook post. “I don’t want to upset or scare anyone — I hate that tactic. But I do want to say, this is real! It is a virus, not politics, not religion, not just for old people. It doesn’t know its host and it doesn’t care your political affiliation, religion, career, home address or age.”
Gilbert said that her symptoms were mild at first — “until they weren’t, and then it hit hard. It is scary and unsettling and the unknowns go on and on.”
She said that she is doing okay, and her doctor is pleased with her progress. But, she added, “Please don’t blow this off. Don’t ignore the simple things that could protect those around you. This virus is in rural America and it is real.”
Gilbert — who is young, with no underlying health issues — urged her Facebook friends to wear a mask when in public.
Meanwhile, the rise in new cases locally is causing health care clinics to take additional precautions. Mountain People’s Health Councils announced Thursday that it was implementing new guidelines for its clinics in Oneida, Huntsville, Elgin, Norma and Winfield — including temperature checks as patients arrive. By Monday, it announced that its lobbies were closing temporarily.
Circle of Life Obstetrics & Family Care also announced Monday that it lobby would close. And Grace Primary Care in Huntsville last week reimplemented more stringent policies, as well. The Gilberts’ clinic, South Fork Physical Therapy, on Friday made an announcement urging patients who are sick or unwell to stay home.
A statewide surge
Statewide, the number of active cases surpassed 25,000 for the first time on Sunday — then exploded again on Monday, when a record 3,314 new infections were reported, sending the number of active cases among 27,500.
With the continuing surge of new cases across the state, the number of hospitalized patients has continued to rise, although the TN Dept. of Health was reporting several consecutive days of declining cumulative hospitalizations. As of Monday, there were 802 coronavirus patients hospitalized across Tennessee, down from a high of 842 last week. Still, that number was almost double the number of people who were hospitalized on June 22.
Despite the rise, the state’s capability to care for Covid-19 patients with serious or severe illness is holding steady. One in five ICU beds and nearly 1 in 4 hospital beds were unoccupied as of Sunday, numbers that haven’t changed much in recent weeks. Seven in 10 of the state’s available ventilators were not in use.
The situation is a little more dire in East Tennessee. On Tuesday, July 7, the Knox County Health Department reported that fewer than 8% of the regional ICU beds in the East Tennessee region were unoccupied. The region has 19 hospitals — many of them in the Knoxville metropolitan area but also including Big South Fork Medical Center in Oneida, Jellico Community Hospital and LaFollette Medical Center. Unfortunately, the data was nearly one week old by Monday; Knox County Health Department updates the data only weekly, and the TN Dept. of Health does not make the data publicly available at all.
There is good news, however: The outbreak appears to be stabilizing — at least for now — in both Knox County and Sevier County.
In Knoxville, which was labeled a coronavirus hotspot by the CDC just last week, active cases were up slightly today, to 736, as reported by the Knox County Health Department. The department also reported three new Covid-19 deaths, bringing the overall number of fatalities to 13. But new cases aren’t being reported in Knox County at the same rate they were being reported last week.
In Sevier County, meanwhile, there was an explosion of new cases for a period of time, but the numbers have been stabilizing and even improving for the last week. On Monday, the TN Dept. of Health reported 300 active cases of coronavirus in Sevier County, down from 309 on Sunday.