COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases in Northeast Tennessee soar, the Tennessee Department of Health is sitting on information that could help prevent infections and could help save lives.

Sullivan County leads the region in total cases. As of Oct. 26, the county had 912 active cases with 219 patients hospitalized. Sullivan County cases more than doubled in the two weeks ended Oct. 26 as compared to the previous two weeks.

From Oct. 1-26, the county averaged 59 cases per day. But the rate of infection is rapidly increasing. The county recorded 94 cases per day for the week of Oct. 19-26. As of Oct. 26, 1 in every 43 residents of Sullivan County had been infected with COVID-19.

The risk to the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions is skyrocketing. These residents need information to help prevent them from getting sick. As they go about their lives, they need to know locations they should avoid because they have been identified as COVID-19 clusters.

A cluster site is where two or more confirmed or probable cases are linked. The state knows these locations. Why won’t it tell us where they are? Will it tell the county? If so, will the county help residents avoid cluster sites?

Nashville does. The Nashville Metro Health Department updates specific COVID clusters. For instance, in its latest report Oct. 23, the department reported on new clusters at the Iron Tribe fitness center at Belmont with 14 cases, Link Systems Electric with 12 cases, the Nashville Rescue Mission with 70 cases, Ms. Kelli’s karaoke bar with 14 cases, and One Stone Church with 10 cases.

This is potentially lifesaving information. And the state should release it so that those at high risk can best avoid exposure.

Kansas does. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment publishes the names of locations that have five or more COVID-19 cases with symptom onset dates over the previous 14 days. The list, along with other information, is published every Wednesday and includes, by name, private businesses, churches, schools, long-term care facilities and health care providers.

New York, which once led infection rates, is looking at identifying clusters by neighborhood. “What’s the best you can do?” Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked recently. “Detect the smallest outbreak as soon as it happens. Patient Zero — trace it back to where it starts. Find a small outbreak, a small cluster and jump on it.”

New York officials no longer want to reinstitute harsher social distancing and closure requirements for entire regions when COVID-19 flare-ups occur. Instead, there is a desire to take advantage of rapid testing technology and localized data to implement temporary shutdowns and rollbacks at the community level.

Under this new “micro-cluster strategy,” reports the Buffalo News, “hot spots would be tagged as yellow, orange or red zones. Red would represent the epicenter of an outbreak cluster and have the toughest restrictions. Only essential businesses could open. In-school instruction and mass gatherings would be banned. Restaurants would be limited to takeout and delivery.”

Tennessee can do better. Given that the state ranked third in the country Oct. 25 in new cases, it needs to take a hard look at information it can release to best protect lives.