If you're like us, you feel as though you have a bad case of COVID-19 information and misinformation whiplash.
Especially now. Especially in Hamilton County where case numbers have been going up, yet suddenly our county mayor and health department say they are planning to lift business and gathering restrictions as of Oct. 8 because "we're going in the right direction," according to County Mayor Jim Coppinger.
What we're seeing from the data seems to show a disconnect with "right direction." Frankly, it is increasingly hard to know who and what to believe.
As of Oct. 1, Hamilton County ranked 11th in our tri-state region counties for the highest average new cases a day per 10,000 people. But in the week before, our ranking was 16th. We're seem to be going up with a bullet on a list we shouldn't want to be climbing.
We're going up because the total number of new cases reported in Hamilton County in the last seven days was a whopping 438.
And that wasn't just happening in the last week.
In the first half of September, Hamilton County averaged 50.5 new cases a day. In the last half of the month, our county averaged 59.1 cases a day, according the Tennessee Department of Health's COVID-19 county data snapshot.
What part of 50 cases a day jumping to 59 cases a day (and county officials told the Times Free Press on Wednesday that we're averaging 63 new cases a day) looks like we're trending in the right direction?
Here's another point:
Our upward trend is not holding true in any of Tennessee's other large counties.
In those same time periods of September, Davidson County dropped from 133.9 cases a day over the first weeks to 92.6 cases a day in the last half of the month. So did Knox County (even with the University of Tennessee), falling from 132.5 to 85.5. Likewise, Shelby County improved, moving from 152 cases a day to 129.3 cases a day.
Our surrounding Tennessee counties, too, with the exception of Grundy, were getting better or at least staying steady.
The state as a whole does seem to be improving, and that, no doubt, is why Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday said he was lifting COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and other gatherings in 89 of the state's 95 counties.
But Lee specifically excluded from his order the state's six largest counties, including Hamilton, because those counties operate their own health departments and, for another month, can continue to set their own requirements based on what's happening locally.
Why then, given the local trend, did Coppinger and the Hamilton County Health Department announce that they will lift the restrictions on local businesses and gatherings next week?
"We are going in the right direction and we don't want to have any setbacks," Coppinger said, urging citizens to continue to be cautious.
No. We are not going in the right direction — at least not according to state data.
Coppinger also said he plans a news conference on Oct 6 to discuss the county's mask mandate, which remains in place until Oct 8.
Oddly, the Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday voted 5-4 to return to online only meetings until the governor's order allowing virtual meetings expires on Oct. 28. The commissioners held their first hybrid in-person and virtual meeting just this week, but now will return to virtual only meetings.
And while we're talking about COVID-19 information whiplash, just two days before Lee announced the lifting of restrictions in a state that was among the first to reopen and the first to send children back to school, WalletHub.com, in a report titled "2020 Safest States for Schools to Reopen," ranked Tennessee in the top five for most childhood COVID-19 cases per capita and for the most COVID-19 deaths among school-aged children. The report also scored us poorly in terms of safety for reopening schools.
State and local school officials rejected those claims.
Let's just take a moment for a reckoning: 34 million people globally have been confirmed to have COVID-19 and more than 1 million have died.
Nationally, 7.2 million of the confirmed cases have resulted in more than 207,000 deaths.
In Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama combined, our tri-state region has seen more than 668,866 confirmed cases and more than 12,015 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine's Coronavirus Resource Center. Our three states make up 6 percent of the nation's total.
In Hamilton County, as a Wednesday, local health department officials said 9,825 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed and 97 people have died from the virus.
Those same officials said the county in the past week has averaged a positivity rate of 7.2 percent on new tests. (In May, the World Health Organization advised governments that before reopening, rates of positivity in testing should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days.)
As of Wednesday Hamilton County tallied 602 active COVID-19 cases with 59 people hospitalized, including 13 in ICU.
We understand COVID fatigue. And we understand that empty hotels and tourist attractions and department stores don't bring our county its usual tax dollars.
But, officials, don't tell us we're trending "in the right direction" when our illness numbers clearly are not. Be honest about what trends and numbers you're actually worrying about — dollars, not people.