A positive trend was finally seen last week in Scott County’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic, as the number of active cases dropped substantially.
According to data made public by the TN Dept. of Health, active cases dropped from a high of 333 three days before Thanksgiving to just 229 on Sunday — a decline of more than 30% in just six days.
The acceleration of the coronavirus outbreak in Scott County appears to have paused, but while new cases have plateaued, a significant reduction in those new cases has not yet been seen sustained. There were 145 new cases reported in the Sunday-to-Sunday time frame, a significant reduction from the 219 reported during the same time frame a week earlier. However, there were 30 new cases reported Thanksgiving eve, 26 new cases on Thanksgiving, and 28 on Black Friday, even as the number of active cases was declining.
The reason for the declining active cases is primarily due to recoveries catching up with the surge of new cases. There were 238 Scott Countians marked as recovered from the coronavirus during the Sunday-to-Sunday time frame, easily the most in a one-week period since the pandemic began.
School shuffling continues
The continued high number of coronavirus cases prompted the Scott County School System to implement a phase-in schedule for all schools as students returned from Thanksgiving break this week. All students in grades pre-K through 8th were to have gone to school just two days — either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, depending on their grade level — while high school students were to have reported to class only if they had end-of-course exams scheduled on that day.
Like the Oneida Special School District, the county school system was closed all last week for Thanksgiving in an effort to thwart the spread of coronavirus. Oneida students were to have returned to class on Wednesday.
“While our inside-school positive numbers and contacts are low, we do have several adults and some students who are on quarantine because of outside-school contacts and households,” the county school system said in a statement. “We will continue to evaluate our school data each week and announce schedules going forward.”
Of Scott County’s 145 new coronavirus cases reported for the week ending Sunday, 36 of them — or nearly 1 in 4 — were in school-aged children, ages five to 18. The previous week, 39 of 238 cases — or 16% — were in that age category.
Probable case remain high
The number of Scott County’s cases being classified as probable cases rather than confirmed cases finally dropped off over the weekend, but remained relatively high for the week as a whole.
None of the 35 new cases reported between Saturday and Sunday were probable cases; all were confirmed cases. For the Sunday-to-Sunday period as a whole, however, 79 of 174 cases — or 45% — were listed as probable. For the month of November, as of Sunday, just over 40% of total new cases had been listed as probable. Prior to November, only 10% of total cases in Scott County were classified as probable.
Probable cases are cases that have not been confirmed with PCR laboratory tests. There are multiple reasons for that. Antigen — or rapid — tests, which are increasing in availability, that return positive are counted as probable cases. In some instances, people who have been exposed to coronavirus and later exhibit certain symptoms consistent with the virus are counted as positive, as well.
Antigen tests have increased in Scott County, and there have also been numerous instances during the month of November of coronavirus spreading through members of the same household, both of which could be contributing factors to the high percentage of probable cases. However, the percentage of probable cases in Scott County far exceeds the probable cases elsewhere in the state. Statewide, 14% of new coronavirus cases for the Sunday-to-Sunday period were classified as probable. That percentage also holds true for the entire month of November.
Antigen tests are generally considered to be less accurate than the traditional PCR tests. However, Dept. of Health data showed that, as of Sunday, only about 10% of antigen tests conducted in Tennessee were returning positive results, compared to 9% of PCR tests.
The bulk of testing conducted in Tennessee since the pandemic began has been PCR tests, with more than 4.4 million administered, compared to just 300,000 antigen tests.
Testing positivity remains high
Scott County’s testing positivity last week was 20%, with 1 in 5 tests returning positive, or 104 of 514 overall.
That is double the CDC’s benchmark of 10% for determining whether enough testing is being conducted to catch all of the virus that is circulating within a community.
At one point earlier in the summer, Scott County’s testing positivity rate was well under 5%. It has since jumped to 10% overall, and has been steadfastly above 20% throughout the months of October and November.
Hospitalizations remain high
Since November 1, only five coronavirus-related hospitalizations have occurred in Scott County, compared to nearly 650 new cases of coronavirus. Effectively, that means that less than 1% of new cases of coronavirus reported during the month have required hospitalization — far below the statewide hospitalization rate since the beginning of the pandemic, which is just over 3%.
However, hospitalizations remain high across the state and the region.
In Tennessee, there were just under 2,200 people hospitalized with coronavirus as of Sunday — or about 6% of the active cases. There have been more than 1,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 in Tennessee since the beginning of November alone.
In the 13-county East Tennessee region — which includes Knoxville and surrounding counties, including Scott County — there were 393 coronavirus patients admitted at the region’s 19 hospitals last week — a number that has risen substantially in recent weeks. Of those, 66 were in ICU and 28 were on a ventilator.
In Scott County, deaths has lagged behind the regional and statewide rates just as much as hospitalizations have. With seven deaths attributed to Covid-19 in Scott County, the case fatality rate has been about 0.6% here. Statewide, that rate is 1.2%.