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Highest daily case jump expected Thursday for Knox County; more than 300 could be in regional hospitals by September

Charity Menefee of the Knox County Health Department told Knox County Board of Health members of the expected increase during its Wednesday afternoon meeting.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Expect Knox County to report the sharpest positive case rise so far in this pandemic when new numbers come out Thursday morning.

Charity Menefee of the Knox County Health Department told Knox County Board of Health members of the expected increase during its Wednesday afternoon meeting.

The jump could amount to 188 to 190 cases when the department releases its new report about 11 a.m. Thursday, Menefee said. That would be the highest daily rise yet for Knox County.

Such a constant rise in cases of the highly contagious virus could prove challenging for area hospitals, experts said.

They are handling capacity right now -- there were 38 Knox Countians, for example, in county hospitals as of Wednesday.

 But by Sept. 9 if things stay the same, area hospitals could be looking at 363 COVID-19 patients, Dr. James Shamiyeh, chief quality officer at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, said. The "Knoxville District" is defined as consisting of Knox, Sevier, Jefferson, Hamblen, Union, Anderson, Blount, Cocke, Grainger, Claiborne and Campbell counties.

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Shamiyeh offered similar cautionary words last week at the board's meeting.

It took 81 days for the Knox County area to reach 1,000 cases. It then took 17 days to get to 2,000, then 8 days to get to 3,000, he said. Projections indicate it'll take about four days now in the area to get to the next 1,000 cases.

"Whether it's four or five days, we are adding a thousand cases every few days," Shamiyeh said.

Credit: WBIR
Knox County positive virus cases as of July 22.

A UTMC metric estimates somewhere between 48 and 51 area residents end up being hospitalized for every 1,000 virus cases.

Shamiyeh said area hospitals now talk daily to compare notes about virus patients and admission trends.

In Knox County, deaths among residents from complications due to the virus reached 21 as of Wednesday, July 22. Fifty-five percent of those have occurred in the past 14 days, according to Dr. Martha Buchanan of the Health Department.

"We had only five for so long and now we’ve had quite a few for the past few weeks," she said.

The Health Department is adding contract staff to help with contact tracing -- the process of tracking down anyone who may have been exposed to an active carrier. Adding staff also will allow the department to focus more on some of its typical duties.

So far, Menefee said, staff has been able to keep up with the demand to locate and interview potential virus carriers. The state of Tennessee also has begun helping the county with some contact tracing, officials said.