Just weeks after active COVID-19 cases were at single digits in Loudon County, the number ballooned to 141 Monday.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there were only nine active cases in the county July 1.
“I guess what we really don’t know, we don’t know if this is a result of Fourth of July activities,” Teresa Harrill, Loudon County Health Department director, said. “Maybe more Fourth of July, people letting their guard down. It’s not just from what we understand cases of just unvaccinated folks — I mean there’s been a few folks that have been positive that have been vaccinated. That’s a concern because we don’t know enough with the Delta virus.”
Knox County spiked Monday to 1,101 active cases after seeing low numbers just weeks ago.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Health Alert Network Health Advisory on July 27 notifying public health practitioners and clinicians about the need to increase vaccinations across the United States, noting unvaccinated people account for most new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
Cases nationwide increased more than 300% from June 19 to July 23. The CDC recommends unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people to practice all recommended prevention measures until vaccinated.
In locations with substantial and high transmission — which includes Loudon and most other East Tennessee counties — the CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors to prevent spread.
“I think the concerning thing about the Delta is that it’s much more contagious,” Harrill said. “That’s one thing that has been shown, the CDC has brought out that it’s much more contagious. Still does have a lot of the signs and symptoms of just COVID. Where the COVID that we dealt with this past 16 months was an Alpha, this is a Delta. Just like there’s different strands of flu, an A and B, the concern is that it’s much more contagious.”
As of Thursday, the Department of Health reports Loudon County’s largest vaccinated demographic is the 71-80 age range with 6,370. A close second is the 61-70 age range with 7,266. The lowest three age ranges are 21-30, 16-20 and 12-15 with 1,878, 861 and 355, respectively.
County numbers show 54.52% of the population has had one dose and 50.5% are fully vaccinated.
“I’ll be honest with you, I feel like everybody that wants a shot has gotten a shot,” Harrill said. “Then if they’re on the fence, this upshot in numbers maybe will change. ... We’re going to encourage parents. Like the day before when I met with the school nurses, I just let them know, ‘This is when we can give vaccine. If your parents ask, please send them our way.’ But we’re not going to be doing any big promotions.”
Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw maintains wearing a facial covering is a personal choice.
“Use common sense, good judgment, be wary of where you’re at,” Bradshaw said. “Be your No. 1 advocate, I guess. Protect yourself the way you see safe and be smart. ... First and foremost a mandate is impossible to enforce. That would occupy in the event that was to happen that would be an incredible burden on our law enforcement agencies, and what do you do? Do you write tickets? Do you take someone’s hard-earned money away from them for something like that? I think it’s important for individual choice. This country is based on the rights of the individual and I think crossing that line just tramples that right.”
The CDC recommends all teachers, staff, students and visitors wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status.
“The board approved the reopening plan in June that recommended the use of masks but did not require them,” Michael Garren, Loudon County director of schools, said. “To this point I don’t see a deviation from that plan unless when school gets underway they see a need to readdress it.”
Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, also maintains facial coverings are a personal choice.
Fort Loudoun Medical Center continues to have heightened awareness during the pandemic, Jessica Kalin, FLMC marketing manager, said.
“We continue to be vigilant in measures to protect patients and the people who treat them,” Kalin said in an email correspondence. “What the public needs to remember is that those measures remain in place for a reason, including our mask mandate, which is still in place for patients, staff and visitors. ... With the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in our region and an anticipated increase in seasonal respiratory illnesses during fall and winter, we urge people to follow the ‘five core principles’ to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These include washing hands frequently, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, cleaning frequently touched surfaces regularly and staying home if you are sick.”
According to regional data for 19 hospitals from the Knox County Health Department, there were 124 positive inpatients, 32 in ICU and 15 on a ventilator July 27. On July 2, there were 21 positive inpatients, six in ICU and one on a ventilator.
Vaccinations are available 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday at the health department. Testing takes place at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.