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Increase in positive Knox County virus cases draws Health Department's scrutiny

"We expected an increase in cases so we're not surprised by this," Dr. Martha Buchanan said at the daily department briefing.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knox County has seen a "statistically significant" increase in positive COVID-19 cases for several days, a signal that's prompting more health employees to return to help with contact tracing to track the potential spread of the virus, Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said Wednesday.

"We expected an increase in cases so we're not surprised by this," Buchanan said at the daily department briefing.

The Knox County Health Department reported 14 new cases Wednesday. That comes after an increase of 10 Tuesday and six Monday, figures show.

A sustained reduction rate of positive cases over time is one "benchmark" that the Health Department uses as it tracks how the community's fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 is progressing. Knox County had been seeing only single-digit increases for many days before the recent uptick.

Credit: WBIR

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As a result, the department now considers the positive case count benchmark to be at what they're calling a "red light", which means trends are not moving towards benchmark attainment and may indicate mid-phase adjustments need to be made.

It's one of several benchmarks health authorities use to track the virus pattern. Other benchmarks such as the community testing rate and hospital capacity are still at a "green light" rate, signaling a satisfactory degree of progress.

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Buchanan said she expected positive case counts to go up as more people shop and eat in public amid more relaxed guidelines.

She said at this point there's no need to consider returning to tighter social movement guidelines under the old "phase one" order. The county is currently in a looser, "phase two" order.

"Our case count has been so low it doesn't take much to be statistically significant," Buchanan said.

The Health Department will "continue to watch this," she said.

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She urged residents to wear a mask when they go out, to wash their hands frequently and to take other steps to stop the potential spread of the highly contagious virus.

More department employees will shift to help assist as the department seeks to identify anyone who may have come in contact with the influx in positive cases.

She said a couple clusters of case outbreaks appear to be at play with the count increase. The clusters were identified at a business and a private school, according to the Health Department, but it wouldn't release more specific details.

Knox County has seen 366 positive virus cases and has 10 probable cases. Some 313 people have recovered.

RELATED: Knox Co. reports 366 total COVID-19 cases with 48 active cases

There are two residents being treated in the hospital for the virus. There are currently 48 active cases, a number that also has been on the rise in recent days.

The department expects to update the public on its benchmarks Friday.

Other areas of the state also have seen a bounce in case counts including Hamilton County.