By Richard Rourk
Following a weekend of record testing in Unicoi County, a new case of COVID-19 has been discovered bringing the county’s total to three.
“There were 237 people tested at the Unicoi weekend testing event,” Tennessee Department of Health Northeast TN Regional Health Office Assessment & Planning Coordinator/PIO Kristen Spencer said of the May 3 event. “I’m not able to release how many positive and negative test results were done over the weekend, but I can confirm there are three positive COVID-19 cases in Unicoi at this time.
“We are HIPAA compliant, therefore we cannot release any case specific details. Some of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Northeast Region, including Unicoi County, have identified no known exposure to another case and no history of travel. This suggests the possibility of community spread as the source of exposure in these cases.”
The third case of COVID-19 comes after Tennessee Governor Bill Lee calls for more expansion in the reopening of the State of Tennessee.
According to Lee’s office, as businesses reopen across the state, Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group released additional guidance today for recreation, offices, lodging, construction and manufacturing. Small group, non-contact recreation businesses like bowling alleys, arcades, dance classes, water sports, mini-golf and more will be able to reopen Friday, May 8. The Tennessee Pledge guidelines created by state officials recommend capacity limits, spacing requirements, and frequent sanitization, among others. Larger venues and activities where social distancing is not feasible remain closed.
“As our testing capacity and contact tracing ability continues to improve, it’s time to get Tennesseans back to work safely and successfully,” Lee said. “These guidelines were created in partnership with business leaders and health experts to preserve the progress we’ve made and protect the lives and livelihoods of Tennesseans.”
The guidance applies to 89 of the state’s 95 counties. Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan created individual plans in consultation with the state and local health departments to address the unique needs of those individual communities.
Most lodging, construction and manufacturing businesses were considered essential under the governor’s executive orders, while offices prepare for a return to work in the coming weeks.
In addition to strict adherence to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, full guidelines for small group, non-contact recreation businesses are posted online at TNPledge.com. The guidelines include sanitizing shared resources, placing hand sanitizer locations in high traffic areas, using plastic shields or barriers between customers and employees at service counters, using a clearly designated entrance and a separate clearly designated exit to maintain social distancing, adding social distancing “reminder” signs, removing all self-serve items on the premises, modifying check-in and payment processes to observe social distancing and implementing sanitization measures.
According to the state, any youth or adult team leagues, activities, or sports should remain closed temporarily to discourage large gatherings. Also, any activities or areas that are likely to result in physical contact between individuals should be closed temporarily. Any common areas where social distancing is difficult or impossible to maintain should be closed temporarily.
The Economic Recovery Group (ERG), composed of 30 leaders from the public and private sector, is crafting guidance to assist businesses in a safe reopening, according to the state. The industry representatives participating in the ERG collectively represent over 140,000 Tennessee businesses that employ over 2.5 million Tennesseans.
As Lee, the Economic Recovery Group and the Unified-Command Group concentrate on opening the State of Tennessee back up, they must do so without one of their initial members.
Lee announced next steps for the Unified-Command Group as Stuart McWhorter departs the administration at the end of May to go back to the private sector and to take on a senior advisory role at Clemson University.
“Stuart has been a tremendous asset to my administration, first as the commissioner of finance and administration, then in his role as director for our COVID-19 response through Unified-Command,” Lee said. “His ability to apply private-sector expertise to public-sector challenges has served our state well and I wish him the best in his new chapter with his alma mater’s entrepreneurship and innovation planning.”
The Unified-Command Group, composed of the Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee Department of Military and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, has established working procedures for testing, procurement, hospital capacity contingency planning, data analysis and other core functions in the fight against COVID-19.
The Unified-Command Group continues to coordinate with the ERG through planning and executing on the safe reboot of Tennessee’s economy.
“The strong work of Unified-Command will continue as we address the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis,” Lee said. “This group has optimized our state’s response and we will keep this model in place for as long as needed.”
HOUSES OF WORSHIP
As houses of worship begin to open up, the Northeast Regional Health Office encourages faith communities to follow the ‘Guidance for Gathering Together in Houses of Worship’ released May 1 by Lee.
The guidance states decisions about when to resume in-person gatherings are serious and should be made by each house of worship and its leadership based on the unique needs of its faith community, and in consideration of preserving and protecting health and safety to the greatest extent practicable.
“These guidelines provide support for the special role of faith-based organizations in COVID-19 education, preparedness and response,” Northeast Regional Health Director Rebekah English, RN, MPH said.
The ‘Guidance for Gathering Together in Houses of Worship’ provides overall guidelines for faith communities to follow such as taking a phased approach to meeting; filling seating to only 50 percent capacity with six feet between family units; wearing face coverings and educating everyone about new protocols.
In addition, there are sections within the guidelines for church leaders about creating and maintaining a safe environment and communicating this to members, preparing the house of worship for potential COVID-19 cases, cleaning and sanitizing the facility, logistics of returning to in-person meetings, worship programming and amenities. Faith-based organizations are encouraged to continue providing online access to services.
For more information from the Northeast Regional Health Department, please visit tn.gov/health and tn.gov/coronavirus for up to date information regarding COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 1,300,696 positive cases of COVID-19 in the United States and 78,771 deaths reported as of The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
Also, there have been 15,544 positive cases of COVID-19 and 251 deaths as a result of the virus in the State of Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. The deaths from COVID-19 in the state amount to two percent of the total positive cases in the state.
Of the positive cases, roughly 8,038, or 52 percent, of the positive cases have recovered.
There have been 273,277 COVID-19 tests that have been administered by the Tennessee Department of Health.
According to tn.gov/health, recovered is defined as people who have been confirmed to be asymptomatic by their local or regional health department and have completed their required isolation period or are at least 21 days beyond the first test confirming their illness.
Roughly nine percent of COVID-19 positive patients in Tennessee were hospitalized.
One of the three Unicoi County cases is listed as recovered.
In Northeast Tennessee, Washington County has had 65 cases with 55 of those cases being classified as recovered. Sullivan County has had 54 total cases of which 50 are considered recovered and one reported death. Greene County has had 46 total cases with 41 recoveries and two deaths. Hawkins County has had 31 total cases with 28 recoveries and two deaths. Carter County has had 18 total cases with 13 recoveries and one death, while Johnson County is reporting five total cases with three individuals who have recovered.
For more information, including up-to-date statistics, please visit cdc.gov and tn.gov/health.
To find out the latest information regarding COVID-19 and Unicoi County, please visit unicoicountystrong.com.