The TN Dept. of Health reported more than 100 deaths linked to coronavirus in Tennessee on Monday alone.
That was a sobering reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over. But, for now, there are plenty of reasons for optimism that the worst could be in the rearview mirror, as the number of new infections drops while vaccinations that could be as great as 95% effective continue to be administered.
There’s no guarantee that a new surge of coronavirus won’t be realized — either in Scott County or across the state as a whole. After all, the numbers were looking promising here after the first surge of the virus in early November. Then came Thanksgiving, when family get-togethers were believed to have been partially responsible for spurring another surge, and the numbers skyrocketed once again.
But the Christmas holiday — which many health care experts feared would lead to a third surge of the virus — is a month in the past now, and that anticipated surge has not occurred. Meanwhile, here are five indicators that provide encouragement:
Declining active cases: As of Monday, there were 117 active cases of coronavirus in Scott County. That was the fewest since Nov. 7, when the first surge of the virus was just beginning here. At the peak, four days before Christmas, there were 363 active cases here.
Statewide, there were 44,426 active cases of the virus as of Monday, the fewest since Dec. 10. The number of active cases in Tennessee is only about half what it was on Dec. 21.
Declining new cases: When the number of active cases drops, it simply means that recoveries are out-pacing new infections. For example, if 500 people in Scott County were infected two weeks ago and only 400 were infected this week, the number of active cases will decline even though an extremely high number of people are still getting sick.
But the number of new cases being reported by the Dept. of Health is encouraging. On Monday, there was only a single new case of the virus reported. The last time that happened was back on Nov. 1. The number of new cases reported by the state has been in the single digits six of the past eight days, as of Monday. The last time that happened was the last week of October, just before the first surge of the virus began in Scott County.
Statewide, the number of new cases remains remarkably low, as well. There were 1,710 new cases reported Monday, the fewest in a single 24-hour period since Nov. 24. For the past week, there were an average of just over 3,000 new cases reported in Tennessee each day. At one point in mid December, more than 10,000 new cases were being reported daily.
Testing positivity is down: The numbers raise an obvious question — are they down simply because fewer people are being tested? Fewer people are being tested, according to the state’s data; there were 190 PCR tests performed in Scott County for the week ending Monday. In mid December, nearly that many people were being tested each day. But that statistic is inconclusive; after all, if fewer people are feeling sick, fewer people will need to be tested.
A more conclusive statistic is testing positivity — the rate at which tests are returning positive. For the week ending Monday, testing positivity in Scott County was 10%. That is right at the threshold that the CDC says is necessary to determine if the spread of coronavirus within a community is being properly detected. Lower testing positivity indicates that sufficient testing is being performed; higher testing positivity suggests that not everyone who is sick is being tested. Scott County’s rising testing positivity, back in mid October, was the first red flag that a surge of the virus was coming. At one point, as the virus raged in November and December, testing positivity was greater than 30%.
Statewide, testing positivity was 11% for the week ending Monday.
Hospitalizations are rapidly declining: We do not know how many people from Scott County are currently hospitalized with coronavirus; the Dept. of Health does not release that data at the county level. We do know that there had been only one hospitalization reported in the past 13 days, as of Monday.
Statewide, though, the number of hospitalizations is dropping quickly. For a while, there were more than 3,000 people across Tennessee hospitalized with the virus. As of Monday, that number was down to just 2,068. It was on pace to be below 2,000 by the middle of the week.
The same trend is being seen in the East Tennessee region, which consists of Knoxville and surrounding areas, including Scott County. At one point, a week into January, nearly 700 people were hospitalized with coronavirus in the region’s 19 hospitals. Last week, that number was down to just over 500. It is in some ways a staggering number; an average of 27 covid patients were being treated at each hospital in the greater Knoxville area. But that’s significantly different from two weeks earlier, when an average of 37 covid patients were being treated at each hospital.
Cases remain low in school-aged children: It’s probably too early into the new semester to determine what impact a return to class is going to have on coronavirus numbers in Scott County. After all, all students in both local school systems weren’t in class at the same time until last week — and, covid can have an incubation period of as much as 12 to 14 days.
But, so far, cases in children in the five to 18 age group remain low. For the week ending Monday, there were 10 cases in that age group. That was unchanged from the previous week, and down from the week before that.
A study published by the CDC earlier this month concluded that in-person schooling does not have an impact on community outbreaks of coronavirus. The agency’s Covid-19 emergency task force recommended that schools be the last to close in an effort to thwart the spread of the virus.
In Scott County, about 13% of all covid cases prior to August were in school-aged children. That number steadily increased during the fall semester, topping out at 19% during the month of December. But school-aged children’s share of covid cases in Scott County did not decrease significantly after schools went virtual just before Christmas break. After students had been virtual or on break for 14 days, that age group was still making up 17% of new covid cases in Scott County.
For the month of January, school-aged kids make up 13% of new covid cases in Scott County. That percentage has risen to 20% over the past 14 days, but the sample size is much lower as fewer cases of the virus are being reported.
That’s not to say that Covid-19 isn’t having an impact on education. Just weeks into the new semester, quarantines are once again on the rise. In some cases, entire classes have already been quarantined. In at least some of those cases, the whole-class quarantines were due to teachers being quarantined.