Got COVID questions? Knox Co. experts are answering them

Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan and Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas are with WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara to answer the public’s questions on coronavirus.
Published: Dec. 17, 2020 at 4:29 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Should the coronavirus vaccine be required in schools? How many cases of COVID-19 are in Knox County Schools? When will the vaccine be widely available?

All those questions and more are being covered in a WVLT News roundtable event.

Moderated by WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara, Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan and Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas will be answering your questions on the virus.

Dr. Buchanan and Superintendent Bob Thomas both agreed that the vaccine should remain voluntary for all Knox County students and staff members.

Thomas said he believes the vaccine is safe and he intends to take it.

Dr. Buchanan acknowledged that mental health issues have been worsened by the pandemic as the entire community is under an increased level of stress.

“We’re not really gonna know the long term impact on all of us for a long time, but we’re certainly seeing it in our children,” said Dr. Buchanan.

She recommended taking time away from the news and stressful situations and do positive and uplifting activities as a family instead.

Dr. Buchanan said health officials hope to see that other illnesses are reduced as well as COVID-19 due to social distancing.

“We usually see outbreaks like norovirus in long-term care facilities and we haven’t seen that.”

Thomas said they have seen a 40% proficiency rate in reading at the third-grade level, but we won’t know the full extent of learning loss until next fall when state testing results are returned.

However, Thomas said KCS is aware of the risk of learning loss in the community and is working to help students keep up without waiting for results.

Thomas said summer school is being considered as an option for Knox County students who need additional instruction.

“Well I think we should use the fact that our teachers work in the professional line communities to help each other, to help students and identify the best and most effective teaching strategies, working. We’re also looking at even the summer this coming summer providing some opportunities, you know for students maybe that we didn’t provide before the pandemic so it’s things of that I think really things that we would have been doing which, you know, in a way, is very helpful because somebody else is doing it to you. You know you feel like maybe you’re on the right track and so that’s been very helpful for us,” said Thomas.

Thomas said schools have seen high levels of compliance with mask-wearing for in-person classes, but many parents asked why quarantine and isolation are necessary precautions if mask-wearing works.

“[Mask wearing] decreases your risk it does not eliminate your risk,” said Dr. Buchanan. “It’s kind of like putting your seatbelt on. It keeps you safer but it doesn’t eliminate the fact that there is a risk of potentially getting harmed in an auto accident. So when you put a mask on it helps protect you. It helps protect other people. And because it’s not absolutely 100% preventive to CDC still maintains that if you’re less than six feet from a person for more than 15 minutes over a 24 hour period, then that is considered a close contact. That’s, I know that’s hard for parents to hear and it’s hard for everybody to kind of get their head around.”

Although the COVID-19 vaccine will remain completely voluntary, the Knox County Health Department already requires several vaccines for children entering the school system. The list includes:


  • DTaP or DT Hepatitis B (HBV) Poliomyelitis (IPV or OPV) H.influenzae (HiB): age younger than 5 years only Varicella (Chickenpox) Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) Pnuemococcal (PCV): age younger than 5 years only Hepatitis A


  • DTaP or DT Polio (IPV or OPV): (final dose on or after the 4th birthday) Measles, Mumps, Rubella (2 doses of each, usually given together as MMR) Varicella (Chickenpox): 2 doses or history of disease Hepatitis B (HBV) Hepatitis A (2 doses)


  • Tetanus-diptheria-pertusis booster (Tdap) Verification of immunity to varicella (2 doses or history of disease)

Students with religious or health conflicts can be exempted from the requirements. More information about Knox County Vaccination requirements are available here.

Dr. Buchanan pointed to the fact that polio has been eradicated in the United States as evidence that vaccines are effective at preventing the spread of disease.

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