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Thinking of celebrating July 4 with others? Practice smart habits to avoid virus threat

At a minimum, people should only think of attending places where they can practice social distancing while observing precautions, experts said.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — With active COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in Knox County, people thinking of taking part in July 4 gatherings need to take steps to be safe -- and should even "be thoughtful" about whether that's the smartest way to spend the holiday.

That's the advice from Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department.

At a minimum, people should only think of going to places where they can practice social distancing while observing precautions, Buchanan said Monday during a press briefing. 

Outdoor events are preferable to indoor events.

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If you're going to a cookout, it might be a good idea to bring your own food so you're not exposed to the potential risk of sharing germs, she said.

Anyone planning to be around others needs to be sure to wash their hands often, keep a safe distance and wear a mask, among other precautions.

"(Masks) continue to be the best way to protect yourself. That applies wherever you are. The rules of the virus don’t change," Buchanan said.

If you're at risk already because of a pre-existing health condition or because you're in an older age category, you should be mindful whether it's really a good idea to go to a gathering with other people, she said.

This week the department is conducting free virus testing 8 a.m.-2 p.m. through Thursday at headquarters at 140 Dameron Ave. Long lines could be seen outside the building Monday morning.

Waits of an hour at a time are possible, Buchanan said. On Friday, the doctor said more than 300 people went in for tests.

Testing is available at private providers such as clinics and some health care outlets.

Over the weekend, there were another 100 positive cases reported, Buchanan said.

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Some cities such as Nashville are beginning to mandate mask-wearing when people are circulating in public.

Buchanan said such a mandate is a question the Knox County Board of Health can address Wednesday when it meets. The county is set to transition to following Tennessee Pledge guidelines then.

But Buchanan, as she and staff members have many times already, emphasized that wearing a mask is an easy way to ensure you don't expose others if you're carrying the virus.

On Monday, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon announced she was mandating that people wear masks in all city-owned buildings. The requirement is effective Wednesday.

“Everyone should be wearing a mask inside all public buildings and in places where physical distancing is difficult.  It is just common courtesy," she said in a prepared statement.

The Health Department on Monday reported 265 active cases, an increase of 42 since Sunday.

The total case count for Knox County is now 912; 642 people are already listed as recovered from the virus.

Fifteen residents are hospitalized and five people have died.