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covid-19

Are the growth rates in local coronavirus cases moderating?

After the steep increase in case rates that I observed the middle of last week (see my video on the city Facebook page), the growth in 7-day average coronavirus case rates in Anderson and Roane Counties seems to have leveled off. Do not think that a reduction in the growth rate justifies complacency — Harvard University public health experts say that a case rate over 25 means we should have a stay-at-home order!!

I want to hope that the moderation in case growth is real, and that it is happening because people have been taking this situation seriously and are wearing masks and avoiding close contact. I do hope the trend continues. Let’s keep it up, folks!

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How many cases in Oak Ridge?

I have been asked why I have talked about data on coronavirus in the counties, instead of in our city of Oak Ridge. The answer is that the state does not provide information for the city.

However, they do publish some data that starts to answer the question about Oak Ridge. Maps are published periodically that give ranges of values for case rates by zip code. The latest map of recent conditions shows that as of July 29, the 37830 zip code had a 21-day case rate between 347 and 425 cases per 100,000 population. That works out to 104 to 127 new cases in Oak Ridge during the 3-week period July 9 to July 29 (about 5 or 6 new cases every day, on average). Another map shows that from the beginning of the pandemic through July 31, Oak Ridge has had a total case rate between 741 and 1029 cases per 100,000. According to my arithmetic, that is somewhere between 222 and 309 total cases since this began.

With school reopening, the Oak Ridge school district has pledged to keep the community informed about cases in our schools. The state health department is not doing this statewide, but they have started publishing a new data set (by county) on coronavirus cases in kids ages 5 to 18 (school-age kids). The numbers for our two counties will be sobering information for our school leaders who have been working to start the school year safely:

  • In the last 13 days (July 19 to 31), 45 Anderson County kids and 27 Roane County kids were reported with new positive tests for COVID-19.

Best wishes to everyone as we try to keep each other safe!

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Roane & Anderson Counties zoom past Knox County in coronavirus incidence

CountyJuly 1July 13July 20July 27
Anderson4.812.416.531.3
Roane2.96.99.832.9
Knox8.315.921.825.9
7-day average of new cases per day per 100,000 population

The trends I described the other day looked worrisome enough, but now the rates of new cases per capita in Anderson and Roane Counties have exploded — and we have zoomed past Knox County.

Oak Ridge City Council sent a resolution to the Governor, passed by unanimous vote and signed by all Council members, requesting City government authority to mandate masks. No response yet….

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Coronavirus is spreading too fast

The state of Tennessee data on coronavirus in our area paint a disturbing picture. The Oak Ridge area is now starting to see the same rates of infection (although fewer cases) as places with larger populations that have been labeled epidemic red zones. Until a few weeks ago the per capita rates of infection were low, but the situation is changing fast. With many stores and restaurants open under near-normal conditions, schools reopening next week, and no local mask mandate, the virus is likely to continue finding people to infect. There are many different ways to analyze disease data; the metrics I am presenting here are ones that are used to indicate the spread of infection.

As of July 1 (just a little more than three weeks ago) Anderson County had reported 26 new cases in 7 days. Numbers like that were worrisome to residents (the numbers were much larger than it had been earlier), but for those 7 days the county rate of new cases per day per 100,000 people was (according to my calculations from state data) just 4.8 — comfortably smaller than the 7-day average rate of 8.3 that neighboring Knox County was looking at that day, when the county health board voted to mandate wearing of masks in public settings to try to control further spread. On July 1, Roane County had a 7-day average case rate of only 2.9.

Since July 1, case rates have increased dramatically in Anderson and Roane Counties. Rates here are now starting to surpass Knox County:

7-day average cases per day per 100,000 population

CountyJuly 1July 13July 20July 23
Anderson4.812.416.522.6
Roane2.96.99.822.3
Knox8.315.921.822.3

The Knox County Health Department is rightly saying it is too early to tell how well the mask order is working, but I think that mask order might explain why case rates are not growing nearly as fast in Knox County as in Anderson and Roane.

The percentage of COVID-19 PCR tests that are returned positive (another measure of virus spread) has also been growing, so that local positivity rates now match those in Knox County. This table shows 7-day averages for the periods ending on the date shown:

CountyJuly 1July 13July 20July 23
Anderson3.0%5.8%8.8%8.3%
Roane2.1%4.1%5.5%8.0%
Knox4.5%7.0%9.2%8.3%

Without effective measures (like near-universal wearing of masks) to minimize spread of infection, I expect that these numbers will continue to grow rapidly. At the moment, the City of Oak Ridge cannot do much to change the situation. The Tennessee governor has preempted cities from acting to address COVID-19 (cities normally have authority to regulate behavior detrimental to public health, but not for COVID-19), and both the governor and our county mayors have declined to mandate precautions. Unless we want to shut everything down again, or deal with an increasing burden of illness in our community, I guess we can only hope — and pray — that people, businesses, and institutions will adopt sensible measures to prevent disease transmission.

Please stay safe!

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