On Friday, Knox County had its biggest single-day increase of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, with 147 new cases reported, bringing the total to 2,053 cases.
"That's extremely concerning," said Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Dept.
As the numbers continue to rise, health officials know that people are beginning to question the effectiveness of the mandatory mask order in Knox County. Buchanan said there are a number of reasons why we're not seeing an impact yet.
"It will only help reduce the spread if everyone buys into it and participates and wears a mask," she said. "It requires participation to see results."
If you are feeling helpless in the midst of this global pandemic, she said you can make a difference just by wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Wearing a mask keeps asymptomatic people from unknowingly spreading the virus to others by blocking droplets coming from the nose and mouth. Masks are not intended to protect the wearer, but to protect those around them.
Buchanan also said that it usually takes three to four weeks to see the results of any policy change, and it's only been two weeks since the mask order went into effect.
Finally, delays in getting test results is having a big impact on our numbers.
The positive cases we are seeing today could be from tests done a week ago or even longer.
"We're not seeing test results in real-time," she said.
That creates an issue because people really need to isolate themselves while waiting for the results.
"We know it's difficult," she said. "Nobody wants to accidentally spread it to others, be that person."
The best way to stop the spread is by following the five core actions the KCHD has talked about from the beginning: wear a mask when social distancing isn't possible; maintain six feet of distance between you and others; wash your hands frequently; clean and sanitize surfaces: and stay home if you are sick.
"We are truly all in this together," she said. "It's the only way to get out of it."
The delay in testing is not a local problem. It's happening across the country as more and more people get tested and the labs are backed up. KCHD is working to identify other lab partners to speed up the results.
In addition, Buchanan said testing is being used in ways it's not mean to be used. It is intended to identify people who are infected so they can be treated and isolated from others. Then contact tracers can get in touch with people who the sick have been in contact with to have them isolate and get tested. It's meant to stop the spread.
"Testing is being used by businesses and others to screen employees before going back to work," she said. "It gives them a false sense of security. They should be using temperature checks and screenings and using those five core values."
If that is stopped, it will free up testing capacity and speed up wait times.
Buchanan said COVID-19 is widespread in our community and you could be infected anywhere. There are a few clusters here and there, but most of it is community spread. That's why everyone has to do their part.
"We need to flatten the curve again. It's going straight up. To do that everyone who can hear my voice needs to practice the five core actions," she said.