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Knox County Board of Health votes to continue bar curfew to Oct. 15

The Knox County Board of Health met Wednesday after the Knox County Commission passed a resolution recommending limiting their power.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knox County Board of Health met on Wednesday to discuss their response to the spread of COVID-19 after officials reported a total of 10,255 cases in Knox County.

They discussed the county's bar curfew, which requires all establishments offering on-premise consumption of alcoholic beverages or beer to close by 11 p.m.

Patrick O'Brien said that the curfew was originally supposed to last 28 days. So, he proposed a vote to extend it another 14 days to fulfill the original expectation of the order. He said that he hoped to be able to allow the curfew to expire at that time.

Members voted to continue the curfew, 7 - 1. Dianna Drake voted against the continuation.

Charity Menefee, who stood in for Martha Buchanan from the Knox County Health Department, said there were a few complaints of businesses violating the order, mostly on Cumberland Avenue. The Knoxville Police Department said they did not issue any citations due to curfew violations.

"Everyone I've talked to, from KPD and Chief Thomas, said it's been really impressive what our business owners have done," Patrick O'Brien said. "So kudos to them."

Jack Gotcher also thanked a group of small business owners that sent a letter to the Board of Health expressing gratitude for their work. Maria Hurt said that there 90 businesses who signed the letter.

Officials also discussed allowing an order prohibiting large gatherings to expire. The order prohibits gatherings of more than 25 people at restaurants and bars serving alcoholic beverages. O'Brien also suggested extending the order for another 14 days, hoping to allow it to expire at the same time as the bar curfew.

They voted unanimously to extend the order.

On Monday, the Knox County Commission also met to discuss a proposal that would have limited the board's powers to enforce policies. The proposal would have stopped criminal sanctions for people who violate any board of health policies and would have prevented the board from creating policies more stringent that Governor Lee's Tennessee Pledge.

During the meeting, Dr. Martha Buchanan said that there have not been any citations or arrests due to violations of the Knox County Board of Health policies. Jack Gotcher thanked members of the board for attending it.

"We are accountable to our professions, to our certifying bodies, our oaths, to state boards," Maria Hurt said during the board's meeting. "So we are held accountable. In fact, the county commission vetted us."

Gotcher also recommended including data about the economic impact of future proposals, if possible, when the board is deciding on whether to approve a proposal. Menefee said that they have asked experts at UT to assist with collecting that data in the past.

In non-emergency times, she said it has taken a little while to collect the data.

University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman also spoke during the meeting on Wednesday. She gave an update on a study UT is participating in with the University of Kentucky. She said that universities in South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia Tech asked to join the study.

She said students identified as having been in close contact with COVID-19 patients will be asked to take nasal swabs during their quarantine period. The study is meant to help officials identify whether a 14-day period is an appropriate length of time before people can leave quarantine.

Local health officials also presented proposed metrics on how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. They gave information about when the board may consider loosening restrictions, and when they should consider passing more stringent policies.

For example, one metric focused on Knox County's positivity rate. Health officials said they recommended loosening restrictions if the rate is less than 3% averaged over the most recent 28 days. However, they recommended more stringent policies if the rate is higher than an average of 5% over the most recent 7 days.

Before approving the metrics, officials said that they would need to discuss them and which ones to settle on.

A citizen representative was also added to the board as a result of the commission's meeting. Ani Roma was called in for the first time on Wednesday. She is a mother, certified health teacher, small business owner and community volunteer.

Officials also discussed the number of COVID-19 cases in Knox County, the University of Tennessee and Knox County Schools. Officials also said they found discrepancies between local and state data. They said state officials were geocoding their cases, which could cause discrepancies if people have different home addresses from where they were tested.

They said inactive and active cases will be based on jurisdictional data and that people should expect a shift in the number of cases due to the change.

The board also discussed changing their regular schedule to meet every two weeks, instead of their weekly Wednesday meetings. James Shamiyeh said that most regulations last for two-week intervals, so it would make sense to meet every two weeks.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said the change would not affect scheduling or logistical processes. They voted unanimously to approve the change. Their next meeting will be on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

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