State COVID count changes to reflect current cases, adds ‘inactive’ case count

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 03, 2020 4:29 PM CT | Published: September 03, 2020 2:56 PM CT

State health officials are changing the way Tennessee counts COVID-19 cases effective Thursday, Sept. 3.

The administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee refers to the changes, already in place in Shelby and other metro counties, as a “data refresh.”

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While cumulative case counts and hospitalizations will still be part of the state’s data, the numbers will also include increases in the counts from day to day.

Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the changes will “help support rapid health actions in Tennessee communities.

“We also want to promote data transparency and help Tennesseans understand the reason case counts for some counties will change as we correct information based on their addresses,” she said.

The state is also changing the time period for considering a case of COVID-19 to be active. That goes from a 21-day period to a 14-day period. The change is consistent with recent guidance nationally from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

The change in that consideration does not change quarantine or isolation protocols enforced by local health departments.

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It will, however, mean that county-by-county totals of active cases released by the state will probably be lower in every county as a result of the shorter time period. And there will likely be an increase in cases considered “recovered.”

The state is also using a third category of “inactive” that will include those cases with which health officials may have lost contact in the daily monitoring of their conditions while in quarantine or isolation.

In some cases, inactive could mean the person is hospitalized since the state is not notified of hospitalizations unless it comes across the information by contact tracing.

The change in active case counts could affect the decisions some local governments make about reopening businesses or expanding reopening measures since some base it on the active case count. It’s not a standard state health officials endorse.

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A total of 1,700 COVID cases will move from one county’s cumulative count to another because of ZIP codes that straddle county borders. The most affected county will be Carter County, which will see an increase of 73 cases.

All of the changes in counting by the state have already been adopted by Shelby County and other metro counties across the state that have independent health departments.

State health officials are also adjusting the amount of exposure to someone with the virus from 10 minutes of contact within a six-foot range to 15 minutes of contact for purposes of determining if the person in contact with someone with the virus should isolate or self quarantine.

The change to the longer period of time is also in keeping with recent CDC changes in guidance.

The changes announced Thursday come almost six months to the day that the state’s first case of COVID-19 was announced.

Meanwhile, Piercey said at the state’s weekly COVID briefing that Tennessee is preparing a plan with federal health officials for distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine sometime in November that would involve “a few hundred thousand doses.” She said health care workers and other first responders would likely get priority in receiving the vaccine in a phased vaccination effort.

She also said the goal of vaccine or vaccines ready for use after clearing accelerated Federal Drug Administration trials by Nov. 1 should be taken “with a grain of salt.”

“We’ll just take that as a loose time frame,” she said.

Federal health officials have not told the state specifically what vaccines could be coming to Tennessee, according to Piercey.

Also at the briefing, Lee defended his presence on the White House lawn as President Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination last week.

Lee said he and his wife wore masks going into and leaving the outdoor event but felt they didn’t need to wear them at the event itself despite the closeness of the seating.

“I have that decision to make. Everyone of us do,” he said. “This is a personal responsibility Tennesseans should take. Yes, people should wear masks where they believe they can be appropriately safe with regard to close contact.”

Since attending the event, Lee said he had been tested for the COVID-19 virus but declined to say specifically what the outcome of the test was.

Asked if he had tested negative for the virus, Lee said: “I don’t think I’d be standing here if it was otherwise.”

Lee also said he intends to run for re-election in 2022.

“I love this job. It’s a challenge,” he said. “I intend to do this as long as they’ll let me. That’s a yes.”


COVID 19 cases Lisa Piercey

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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