WATE: first Knox coronavirus case reported; but no public restrictions as of early afternoon, March 12: Buchanan

Concerning this new strand of coronavirus and its impact in Farragut and Knox County — WATE-TV has reported the first Knox case Thursday, afternoon, March 12,

No other details were known at this posting.

The county’s top Health Department’s official held a press conference about three hours before the breaking news from WATE to update citizens earlier this afternoon at the KCHD’s Damron Avenue home.

“Coronaviruses are not new, but this coronavirus is new,” said Dr. Martha Buchanan, KCHD director, adding there are no Knox County cases of a person being quarantined concerning coronavirus “where we’re watching somebody who has been exposed to see if they are going to get ill.”

Concerning the preparation for cases, "Our hospitals all have a plan," she said "They’re all prepared for any possible increase in patients. … We’re meeting with them right here and now to talk about what to do.

“One of the things you’re going to see is they’re going to be limiting visitors. … Only people required for patient care,” Buchanan added, “… So that they don’t introduce that virus into the hospitals or into the nursing homes or into that assistant living (facility).

• “Something important that I’m not sure everybody’s thinking about or talking about are the things that we can do now will reduce risk later. … Say you’re planning a big event; look at who’s going to be there. … Sending information out to folks saying, ‘if you’re at high risk for complications for the coronavirus, you might want to consider staying home,” she said.

“Making sure there’s hand sanitizer available, things

like that help to reduce the spread of disease within our community,”

• Buchanan said all citizens should practice “social distancing,” which she defined as “staying about three to six feet apart” from any other person “and try to limit personal contact.”

She advised, for example, that people do not need to sit next to each other at any public event including “places of worship, places at work.”

She even said to consider “to get the worship service at home, maybe online or something like that, or how can people work from home?”

In short, “Reduce the time people come together.”

• For people experiencing “flu-like symptoms” and fear they may have the virus, Buchanan outlined “the two ways to get tested:” Tennessee Department of Health “and there’s testing through commercial labs.”

However, she added a change in recent days: “your doctor can safely test you in the office without special equipment and a negative pressure room and all that stuff that was required before.

“… They collect a specimen, and that specimen either gets send to a commercial lab or a Tennessee Department of Health lab.”

However, TDH “is still restricting who can be tested based on risk factors,” Buchanan said, which are:

• Exposure to somebody who is a confirmed case

• Travel to an at-risk area

• People with severe pneumonia “that they have no other diagnosis for.”

As for using commercial labs, “Some doctors have it, some don’t,” she said. “All of the hospital systems and providers are rolling that out slowly in coordination with the labs that they use, they are getting ready to do that.”

In terms of a time factor to get test results, “If the test goes to the Tennessee Department of Health, it’s 24 to 48 hours,” Buchanan said. “If it goes to a commercial lab I’m not exactly sure; I’ve heard different numbers.

“If you have a respiratory illness; a fever or a cough, you’re more likely to have the flu than you are to have the coronavirus,” she said. “That being said, give your doctor a call, let them know you have these symptoms, and they can advise you whether you need to or don’t need to come in.”

However, those most at risk in addition to the elderly ill are those who have “a respiratory illness, heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune disorder — the same things that make us most vulnerable to complications of flu,” Buchanan said.

However, if you don’t feel well — but it’s something you normally would “stay home and weather it out,” Buchanan advised, “stay home and weather it out” instead of getting tested. “… Don’t change those behaviors.”

With “no anti-viral and no vaccine” to treat coronavirus, the current treatment is “symptomatic treatment,” she said.

As for citizens attempting to “stockpile” supplies, Buchanan said, “They need to go to the CDC website and look at what’s on there for guidance. … For the possibility of quarantine and follow those instructions.”

• As for planning events where at least dozens of citizens will mingle and interact, Buchanan said such organizers should get out the word to visit the CDC website and advise “if you are ill, please don’t attend.”

For visitors who may attend such an upcoming Farragut or Knox County event, “If you live in an area with there’s ongoing transmission, consider not attending because you may import the virus here,” she added.

Buchanan singled out the highest risks groups as “older folks who have chronic illness, consider not coming to the event.”

In fact, events featuring “an older crowd, they might want to think about canceling that event,” Buchanan said. “At this point we’re not mandating any cancellations. We’re only working with them and making suggestions based on CDC guidance.”

• As for the unprecedented public health concerns of this virus in Knox County, “I only have a 15-year memory of what Knox County has done in relationship to illness and in my time. … I can’t bring up anything in my memory” that compares, she said.

• Buchanan did not say there were any tentative plans to close or limit any contact among students and school officials in Knox County Schools, which will be off next week for spring break.

“We talk to the schools on a regular basis, as you can imagine a really important partner for us,” she said.

• As for attempts to come up with a treatment or cure for coronavirus, which includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “I know that lots of really smart people in labs all over the world are working really hard either or both of those,” she said.

However, “It takes time to develop all of these things,” Buchanan said, adding, “A vaccine can take up to a year to develop with all the steps that have to happen.

“A medication that could treat it might take less time, but then again it has to go through some approval process. There are shortened approval processes for that.”

In China, where the outbreak began a few months ago and the nation with by far the most coronavirus cases, “We do know that 80 percent approximately (of those diagnosed) had a mild disease,” Buchanan said. “About 20 percent of those folks had the disease that required hospitalization.

“Right now their mortality rate is right around 2 percent,” she added.

However, “We’re not sure what that will look like” in the United States, Buchanan said.

• As for public gathering places such as restaurants, “Restaurants are safe to eat in as long as everyone is following hand hygiene and keeping the food safe and people are staying home if they’re sick,” especially “restaurant workers,” she said.

“And we encourage employers to look at their leave policies and allow people to be off if they are sick.”

Including KCHD, other Knox officials making decisions on closings and other public access restrictions would be “the political leadership, public health, the schools and lots of other folks,” she said.

• While saying KCHD “is not recommending that anybody cancel anything,” Buchanan said her department will act “based CDC guidance and consultation with Tennessee Department of Health.”

It is unknown at this posting if this will change based on the WATE case report.

When and if you travel out of state, and especially if you travel overseas, “Go to the World Health Organization website and the CDC website,” Buchanan said, “… and make a decision about your own personal risk.”

• While advocating social media as a “great tool” for spreading critical information, Buchanan warned against misleading and simply wrong information about the virus on social media.

“Re-Tweet the CDC Tweets; and the Tennessee Department of Health also Tweets; get that out there, that’s reliable information,” she said, also recommending “the UT Medical Library, it’s open to anybody. … They are really user-friendly.”

Buchanan recommended visiting the KCHD website homepage and clicking on “web epidemic” to be aware of social media misinformation.

She also advised to look for “big adjectives” and “sensationalizing things” on such rouge sites.