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The COVID-19 Pandemic: A look back at the pandemic in East TN, 3 years later

On March 13, 2020, the Knox County Health Department reported it had its first presumptive case of COVID-19.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It has been around three years since cases of COVID-19 were first reported in East Tennessee. Since then, the World Health Organization reported that at least 6.8 million people died across the world from COVID-19.

The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

On March 12, 2020, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee declared a state of emergency to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. At the time, the Department of Health reported 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The first presumptive case in Knox County was reported on March 13, 2020.

Around two weeks later, on March 30, 2020, the Knox County Health Department reported its first death due to COVID-19. The same day, Gov. Lee issued a "Safer at Home Order." It effectively meant all non-essential businesses had to close and people were encouraged to stay home, in order to prevent a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Following months of calls for people to follow social distancing and masking guidelines, and several canceled events, KCHD received its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on December 22, 2020. Healthcare workers and first responders received the first shots.

That brand of the vaccine was found to be 95.4% effective in its clinical trial. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was found to be 95% effective in its clinical trial, and it was approved by the FDA on Aug. 23, 2021. The Moderna vaccine was fully approved on Jan. 31, 2022, according to records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lines stretched far from the health department's offices as workers lined up for the vaccine. But as vaccines were distributed across the state, "long COVID-19" started being reported from health departments. These cases involved people who had a wide range of symptoms following a COVID-19 diagnosis, lasting for weeks or months after recovering.

One Knoxville mother said her life was "completely unrecognizable" because of the symptoms. She went to specialists countless times, leading her to a clinic in Nashville — the Adult Post-Acute COVID Clinic at Vanderbilt. Doctors there diagnosed her with a disorder that affects blood flow brought on by the coronavirus.

There were more than 159,000 cases of COVID-19 confirmed by the Knox County Health Department since the COVID-19 pandemic began. They also reported 1,599 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic began. The last reported death was on Feb. 27, 2023.

They also said around 58% of Knox County is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and around 63% of the county has had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Researchers have also advanced vaccine technology since the start of the pandemic. Some are conducting a clinical study to test a combo shot for the flu and COVID-19.

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