With travel and family gatherings over the holidays, Loudon County health officials are urging residents to take precautions to help protect against the coronavirus.

Loudon County has 815 active cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

The county was first listed as a red zone last month after 13.8% of administered tests came back positive. The average positivity rate doubled to 27.2% last week.

“All of what we’re seeing is, yes, there’s been a little bit of an outbreak over at one of the long-term care facilities and that has created more,” Teresa Harrill, Loudon County Health Department director, said. “Now that school has shut down, hopefully, we won’t have much more because there were a few more cases in schools over the last couple of weeks, and I think that came from Thanksgiving. I think we’re just now kind of seeing some of the Thanksgiving cases where families were together, so that’s unfortunate.”

COVID-19 tests have been in high demand. Loudon County has reported an average of 268 tests per day this month.

As of Monday, the county reported 3,662 total cases since the start of the outbreak in March, with 2,818 of those considered recovered or inactive.

There have been 69 total hospitalizations and 29 deaths related to COVID-19.

Loudon pediatrician Dr. Bud Guider is concerned about the overall health and safety of the county.

“I looked back at my records and in the last month the cases per 100,000 people of the population of Loudon County have more than tripled over a seven-day average,” Guider said. “A month ago we were at 46 cases per 100,000 population, and today we’re at 157 cases per 100,000 ... which means that one in four are positive. That’s astronomical numbers.”

Health officials believe the county will “definitely” experience another spike in positive cases following Christmas and New Year’s Day celebrations.

The health department is advising families to limit travel and gatherings to help slow the spread of the virus.

“I would suspect this recent surge is a result of Thanksgiving gatherings, or at least in part, and I would encourage people in terms of their Christmas gatherings to keep it within immediate family only and that’s it,” Guider said.

“We are encouraging people to limit their gatherings,” Harrill added. “Christmas is definitely upon us and families are going to want to be together, but if they can limit that ... because people can be infected and they don’t even know it.”

Tennessee Department of Health suggests masks or other facial coverings can reduce exposure by 80% when combined with social distancing and effective hand washing.

“I’m a big mask proponent, and I’ve been making recommendations to the mayor for six months to issue a mask mandate for Loudon County,” Guider said. “I personally think the governor and our leaders, we need a statewide mask mandate. The governor has given local mayors authority to issue one, but there was a Vanderbilt study done a month ago that compared the counties in Tennessee that had mask mandates to the counties that didn’t have a mask mandate, and the ones that did have a mask mandate had 50% fewer hospitalizations and deaths. We know that they work. They’re not perfect, but they’re the best thing we’ve got.”

Gov. Bill Lee on Sunday signed Executive Order 70 into effect through Jan. 19, which limits indoor social gatherings to 10 people and encourages as many as possible to work from home. School-related events and games will be strictly limited and/or canceled.

The order does not include places of worship, funerals and weddings as social gatherings, but social distancing and mask guidelines must be followed.

“The executive order was handed down and is exactly what it is, and I think that is probably smart,” Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, county mayor, said. “Just from a personal standpoint, we are scaling back all of our family functions this year to where we’re very limited onto who’s coming in and just going to keep it immediate family only. It’s good, sound advice and even though it’s not necessarily mandated or forcible for that matter, it’s still good advice to help kind of curb this thing and help keep our numbers down.”

Bradshaw is strongly advising each person take responsibility over the holidays.

“Everybody’s got to be responsible because the government is not a big brother and shouldn’t act as a big brother,” he said. “I think it’s important that everybody does their part to stay safe. You look at how high our numbers have gotten and how quickly, and I wonder how many of them have come from our factories because they’re essential? We’re not going to shut anything down, but it’s important everybody stays safe. We’ve heard our recommendations from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and all five pillars are what it takes to be safe.”

For more information, visit https://covid19.tn.gov/ or contact the Loudon County Health Department at 865-458-2662.