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COVID-19 comes to Unicoi County, Gov. Lee tells citizens to stay at home

By Richard Rourk

COVID-19 has officially landed in Unicoi County

Ballad Health confirmed during a press conference on Thursday, March 26, that one person has tested positive for COVID-19 in Unicoi County.

When asked the age and sex of the individual who tested positive, Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine declined to respond.

“Due to confidentiality, I can’t release that information at this time,” Levine said.

According to Levine, the staff at Ballad, especially in Unicoi County, is doing a tremendous job preparing for COVID-19.

“We really appreciate the work everyone is doing in Unicoi; we have had several talks with Eric (Carroll, Unicoi County Hospital administrator) and everyone is doing a great job,” Levine said.

Ballad reached out later that day to The Erwin Record with a statement that no further information regarding the positive test in Unicoi County will be released.

On March 28, the Tennessee Department of Health submitted a press release about the recent cases of COVID-19 in East Tennessee.

“Several of the cases have no history of travel or contact with a known case, indicating likely spread in the community throughout the region,” Tennessee Department of Health Representative Kristen Smith said. “As of March 28, six cases have been hospitalized, two of whom are still currently hospitalized.”

During a media update on March 31, Ballad officials showed support for Governor Bill Lee’s Safer at Home executive order.

“We have our orders and by staying home we can help flatten the curve,” Ballad Health’s Director of Infection Prevention Jamie Swift said.

According to Swift, the cases are increasing in the region.

“We are continuing to see increases in case,” Swift said “We are starting to see community spread.”

Ballad also announced that the first death at one of their facilities has occurred. 

“We are reporting our first death from COVID-19 at a Ballad Health, and we send our deepest sympathy to the family,” Swift said.

Levine said the deceased was a male over 70 who had other health issues.

“This is very tragic. Our prayers are with the family and our team members,” Levine said. “This is a different scenario where our team members are there during the last moments. This is a different situation for some of them.”

Levine confirmed that four Ballad employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We have had four team members that have tested positive and they have gone through protocol of quarantine,” Levine said.

According to Levine, the majority of people are bringing optimism to the situation.

“In these times you see the best of people or the worst of people; we are seeing the best,” Levine said.

According to Levine, East Tennessee is at a pivotal point with COVID-19.

“We are at a point where we can slow this thing down or we can really see this take off,” Levine said.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health’s website,, the Unicoi County case pushes the total number of cases for the Northeast Tennessee region over the 40 person mark. As of The Erwin Record’s press deadline on Tuesday, March 31, there are a total of 45 confirmed cases in the Northeast Tennessee region. Washington County has 14 confirmed cases, Greene County has 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Sullivan County has 11 confirmed cases, Hawkins County has four cases, Johnson County has two cases and Carter County has one case.

The total number of positive cases in Tennessee has now topped 1,834 from approximately 23,304 that have been tested. There have been 148 hospitalizations and 13 deaths in Tennessee a result of COVID-19 as of March 30.

Of those 1,834 cases, 462 are between the ages of 21-30, 299 are between the ages of 41-50, 286 are between the ages of 31-40, 280 are between the ages of 51-60, 212 are between the ages of 61-70, 120 are between the ages of 71-80, 96 are between 11-20, 50 are over the age of 80, 18 are between the ages of 0-10 and 11 cases have unconfirmed ages.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have now been 140,904 confirmed cases and 2,405 deaths as a result of COVID-19 in the United States.



Governor Bill Lee signed Executive Order 22 that calls for Tennessee residents to be “Safer at Home,” on March 30.

According to the executive order, the Safer at Home order shall be effective and enforceable at 11:59 p.m. on March 31, and shall remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on April 14, at which time the suspension of any state laws and rules and the other provisions of this order shall cease and be of no further force or effect.

The Safer at Home order calls for all Tennessee residents to stay at home unless they are considered essential workers or are in the process of completing essential travel. This order coincides with President Donald Trump’s call to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The order calls for Tennessee residents to: work from home whenever possible; avoid social gatherings of 10 or more people; avoid eating or drinking at restaurants, bars, and food courts, and instead use drive-thru, pick-up or delivery options; avoid discretionary travel and social visits; avoid discretionary visits to nursing homes, retirement homes or long-term care facilities; avoid close contact with people who are sick; and distancing oneself from others, especially those who are at higher risk of getting sick, including in particular older adults and persons with serious chronic medical conditions; practice good personal hygiene, including washing hands, especially after touching any frequently used item or surface; avoiding touching the face; and disinfecting frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.

Lee orders residents to stay home unless they are engaging in activities essential to a person’s health and safety or the health and safety of family or household members.

People seeking medical supplies, medical assistance or medication, including items for pets, are permitted to travel under Lee’s order.

Persons who are seeking necessary supplies such as: groceries and food, household consumer products, supplies required to work from home, automobile supplies (including dealers, parts, supplies, repair, and maintenance), and products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences and those providing, facilitating, or receiving delivery or curbside carry-out delivery of online or telephone orders from businesses or organizations are permitted to travel.

Engaging in outdoor activity, especially in regards to health such as: driving or riding in a vehicle, walking, hiking, running, biking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, golf, tennis, or other sports or recreational activities that can be performed while maintaining the aforementioned precautions or utilizing public parks and outdoor recreation areas is permitted.

However, congregating or playing on playgrounds presents a unique risk for the spread of COVID-19 and is therefore not covered as an essential activity.

Caring for or visiting a family member, friend, or pet in another household, or transporting or traveling with family members, friends, or pets as allowed will be permitted and considered essential as long as safety measures are taken.

Visiting a place of worship or attending a wedding or funeral as long as safety measures are taken will be permitted. However, it is strongly encouraged that the public celebration component of weddings and funerals be postponed or attended only by close family members.

According to the order, essential travel includes:

• Travel related to essential activity or otherwise permitted by the;

• Travel related to performing essential services;

• Travel to care for the elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons;

• Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services;

• Travel to and from outside of the State of Tennessee; or

• Travel required by law, law enforcement, or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement. Critical infrastructure remains open and operational. All critical infrastructure remains operational, and government entities and businesses will continue providing important and essential services.

A list of essential employees includes:

• Health Care and Public Health Operations;

• Human Services Operations;

• Essential Infrastructure Operations;

• Essential Government Functions;

• Food and Medicine Stores;

• Food and Beverage Production and Agriculture;

• Organizations that Provide Charitable and Social Services;

• Religious and Ceremonial Functions;

• Media;

• Gas Stations and Businesses Needed for Transportation;

• Financial Institutions and Insurance Entities;

• Hardware and Supply Stores;

• Critical Trades; Mail, Post, Shipping, Logistics, Delivery, and Pick-up Services;

• Educational Institutions;

• Laundry Services;

• Restaurants for Off-Premises Consumption;

• Supplies to Work from Home;

• Supplies for Essential Businesses and Operations; 

• Transportation;

• Home-based Care and Services;

• Residential Facilities and Shelters;

• Professional Services;

• Manufacturing, Distribution and Supply Chain for Critical Products and Industries;

• Hotels and Motels;

• Funeral Services.

The order also allows:

• Any business related to essential activity, as defined in Executive Order No. 22, including any outdoor recreation area, park, site, or trail that provides opportunities for outdoor recreation while maintaining adherence to the health guidelines;

• Any other business or organization that operates at all times with 10 or fewer persons accessing the premises of the business or organization at a time, including employees, customers, and other visitors; provided, that the premises allows for operation within the health guidelines and that such health guidelines are followed at all times; or

• The minimum necessary activities required to maintain any business or organization, whether otherwise essential or not, including: Maintaining the value of the business’s or organization’s inventory; Preserving the condition of the business’s or organization’s physical plant and equipment, livestock, or other assets; Ensuring the security of the business or organization; Processing the business’s or organization’s mail, payroll, and employee benefits; Facilitating employees o f the business or organization being able to continue to work remotely from their residences; or Conducting any functions related to these activities.

The “Safer at Home” order is available on


The Tennessee Department of Health Northeast Region has launched a Coronavirus Public Information Line. The number is 979-4689 and is available daily from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

People with concerns about their health should contact their health care providers.

The COVID-19 Public Information Numbers are 833-556-2476 and 877-857-2945 are available from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily.

Ballad Health has the following line open for the public. If you think you may have COVID-19 please call 833-822-5523 to be prescreened.

You can also visit the following websites for more important information:

• To view updated COVID-19 numbers in Tennessee please visit

• For comprehensive information on COVID-19 please visit

• For more updates from Ballad Health including an online prescreen tool by visiting