This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, with more information.
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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County nearly doubled between Monday and Tuesday.
The increase from eight to 15 not only represents the largest day-over-day increase in the county so far, but also signifies that the disease is spreading beyond those in immediate contact of known cases.
"Some of these cases had no known contact with people who were positive for the COVID-19 virus, so this indicates that community spread is happening," Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes said at a press conference. "Community spread means that the source of an infection cannot be traced to a particular person who has already tested positive for the disease."
Despite the community spread, Barnes was unable to provide an update on the status of public assessment centers in the county, citing a lack of personal protective equipment and other resources for the relatively low amount of tests from the county.
"It's definitely a supply issue," she said after the conference.
Barnes also shared demographic information of the known cases for the first time
10 of the fifteen are male and five are female.
Seven of the confirmed cases are between 39-59 years old, while the remaining eight are in the higher risk 60 and older category.
All of the cases in Hamilton County are white, but Barnes did not share any more demographic information, refusing to identify the location of the cases within the county, citing privacy.
With the new cases, the county has now received results for 223 tests. Contact interviews have not been completed for the seven new cases, leaving the number of individuals being monitored and quarantined by the county at 77.
Barnes explained a recent inconsistency of data between the state, which still shows just seven cases, and the county after the press conference, saying that the state had switched to a new database of cases, separate from that used by the county, which has proven to be less accurate.
Barnes insisted that county data includes all private and public lab results, including both negatives and positives, and is the most accurate local count.
"Believe us, our data is the most up-to-date for the county, while the state works out their new database," Barnes said.
The announcement comes one day after County Mayor Jim Coppinger declared a state of emergency and one day before an executive order by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke is set to close many businesses that encourage human contact or large gatherings.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.
UTC will refund students for campus housing, unused meal plans after classes moved online due to COVID-19