COVID-19 cases rise in county

Loudon County Health Department representative Susan Seals performs a COVID-19 test on a driver in front of the health department.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Loudon County have increased as the community continues reopening.

The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed 170 cases as of Tuesday, while 140 have recovered. There remains no deaths related to the virus in the county.

A bulk of the cases came from a recent outbreak at Monterey Mushrooms in Loudon where 74 workers tested positive. A majority of them were asymptomatic.

“To be honest, we’ve seen an increase since things have been opening back up,” Teresa Harrill, Loudon County Department of Health director, said. “I think people are letting their guard down, that they are looking at the rest of the world is doing all this stuff and it’s kind of we’ve noticed a decrease in calls. I’ll be honest, this has been talk about an unprecedented time. I’ve been with the department of health for 37 years. First time in my work history that we have had such unknown, there’s just so much unknown about it, but I definitely have seen the spike and the county mayor and I have talked about that.”

Harrill and Dr. Brandon Sammons of Summit Medical Group in Tellico Village stressed caution.

“From the standpoint of the overall prevention of helping to stop the spread of the coronavirus, I don’t think that’s really changed a whole lot,” Sammons said. “I know that things are really opening back up and people are getting out, and I know that there are very valid reasons behind the thought processes of doing those things, but from a health standpoint I don’t think much has really changed. I think that as we do open up, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see ... more new cases cropping up and just because people are out doing more things.

“A large percentage of the people who have this thing are asymptomatic,” he added. “That’s why wearing a mask is even more important because you can be an asymptomatic carrier and not know about it.”

Of nearby counties, only Knox has a higher number of cases at 481.

“The virus is still here,” Harrill said. “It’s not just because things have opened back up it’s not just like, ‘OK, pandemic’s over.’ It’s not over, and I think we’ll see another spike as we go into the fall and then we’ll have flu. ... I think that’s going to get all mingled in with it. We’re not only going to have COVID still going on but then you’ve got flu, and as we’ve seen in the numbers, each year so many deaths are related to flu, too. I think it’s going to be challenge. I think it’s going to be a challenge when school starts back up. I think that opens a lot of other areas to be concerned about as far as classroom, school buses. How do you social distance a first-grader with (a) mask?”

LCDH offers COVID-19 testing at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday-Friday by appointment. The lobby remains closed at least through the end of June, but Harrill said the department provides services such as birth and death certificates, immunizations and birth control assistance. The Women, Infants and Children program has seen an increase.

Harrill said in May the department averaged at least 30-40 COVID-19 tests per day.

“People call in and we do an assessment, which is basically name, address, date of birth,” she said. “We ask if they’ve had symptoms — that’s not a requirement, we’ve loosened up with the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations. Anybody that wants tested is able to be tested.”

Those wanting to be tested must call in advance. Results will take 4-5 days. Harrill stressed self-quarantining when possible during that time.

Ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 include washing your hands, maintaining social distance, not touching your face and wearing a face mask when out in public settings.

“A lot of people are not wearing a mask,” Harrill said. “I think when they go to the grocery store, those out I think they need to wear a mask because it not only protects you but it protects other folks because people can be asymptomatic, have the virus, have no idea that they even have it and can pass it. Wash your hands. That is the big thing. If everybody’s protecting and looking out and being aware of their surroundings and what they’re doing, they protect themselves big time.”

Sammons believes “the more the better” if someone considers whether they should wear a mask.

“It still makes sense to me if you’re going to work or being around other folks, wearing a face mask seems to make a lot of sense for prevention of spreading the virus,” he said. “I guess one typical place where people are going out to restaurants and things of that nature. Can’t really wear a face mask and eat, so that’s a little bit difficult, hard for the business owners because I know they’re trying to keep the doors open. For me and my family we’re still doing a lot of takeout and not doing a lot of in-restaurant eating right now. It’s hard for the owners of the businesses and it’s hard for us because we have to do our best to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Wearing a mask outside is likely unnecessary if no one is around such as on a hike, Sammons said.

“The majority of folks aren’t going to be in that situation,” he said. “They’re going to be outside at a park or outside in a parking lot or whatever. In that case, you are kind of around other people, and so I know that they 6 feet but people aren’t carrying a tape measure around with them either. If you’re around other people I still think it kind of makes sense to wear the face mask, but if you’re going to be just completely secluded at that point it makes no difference from that and your house.”

Focus on finding a middle ground, Sammons said.

“You don’t want to completely forget about other health conditions and things that can creep up and give you trouble,” Sammons said. “A lot of mental anxiety and things of that nature, you can get that from looking at the news. Some place in the middle ground. Doing your best to live your life to the best of your ability, while also diminishing your chances of either contracting or spreading the disease, it makes sense. ... We can’t get so focused in on the one thing that we forget about everything else. Mental health is in the bucket as well.”

For more information, contact the health department at 865-458-2662.