City of Oak Ridge alarmed by 12.5% COVID-19 positivity rate

Residents strongly urged to wear masks, practice social distancing

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (Nov. 12, 2020) – The City of Oak Ridge is strongly urging residents to take measures to protect themselves, each other, our children, our elderly and vulnerable populations, our businesses and our homes from the ravages of the COVID-19 virus.

As of earlier this week – the COVID-19 positivity rate in the Oak Ridge area was at 12.5%, according to zip-code specific data from the Tennessee Department of Health. Additionally, new Vanderbilt Department of Health Policy research shows that coronavirus death rates are significantly higher in Tennessee counties that do not have mask requirements in place. Researchers found that in the first week of October, there were more than four deaths per 100,000 population in areas where masks were never required and near or below two deaths per 100,000 in areas that had adopted a mask requirement over the summer.

This virus is far from under control. Data from wastewater indicates COVID-19 is present across our entire City.

On Monday, City Council passed a resolution asking for community support against this everchanging virus. It encourages people to wear masks, wash hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, avoid crowds and ensure appropriate distancing during activities and functions.

This pandemic is serious. City Council and I recognize that we are limited on what we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, the data from Vanderbilt, the CDC, and the state health department about our community warns us that we are on a track for an increase in cases,” said Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch. “Moving toward the Thanksgiving holiday, all residents should be conscious of the actions they should take to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.”

A spike this winter is anticipated nationwide, as more people spend time indoors and gather with families and friends over the holidays. While news released this week regarding a possible vaccine sounds promising, it’s not going to be available to the public for several months.

Councilwoman Ellen Smith has been tracking the state’s numbers for months and said the current surge in the per capita rate of new cases and the percentage of positive tests started around the beginning of October. Prior to that, the positivity rate in Anderson County had hovered around 5% positivity, well below today’s 12.5% positivity rate.

“Infectious disease experts say that rate should be under 5% but when it gets up to 10% or more, that’s a good indication that there are more cases going undetected and the virus is spreading faster every day,” said Smith. “We all need to double down in our efforts to reduce the potential for exposure and potential to expose to somebody else – that means wearing masks and asking ourselves whether we really need to visit a place or engage in an activity where we’re going to be around other people outside of our household.”

Recent zip-code specific data show that Oak Ridge averaged about seven new cases per day in the three-week period that ended Nov. 4, 2020.

Since Feb. 1, 2020, the City has been in an active mode to muster city resources for the protection of its citizens while continuing to provide essential city services. The City has taken steps to close or limit public facilities, secure access to essential work areas, provide for new online meetings, practice social distancing and accommodate people in the conduct of city business.

“As I observe the rise in positive virus activity in Oak Ridge, every smallest precaution we take can avoid serious health consequences. As I observe those that have had COVID, they do not want to go through it again,” Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said.

Since the beginning of March, 14 City employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and 32 have been quarantined.

The City is also continuing to conduct COVID testing in the City’s wastewater.

“From the data, there’s still an upward trend. We have positives everywhere. Some places are higher than others and all areas are in the yellow range with the exception of several western sewer sheds that are in the red,” Public Works Director Shira McWaters said.

To read the full resolution, find the latest COVID-19 information on Oak Ridge and more on how to protect yourself and others from this virus, visit OakRidgeTN.gov.