Hamblen County COVID cases continue sharp rise

Hamblen County has seen a 57% increase in active cases of COVID-19 in the past five days as the state reported 411 active cases in the county on Monday.

The total number of active cases jumped by 37 from Sunday to Monday as it rose above 400 for the first time since the start of August when Hamblen County was at its peak.

“We need to keep our guard up and be vigilant,” Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain, chairman of the county’s COVID-19 Task Force, said Tuesday.

Last Thursday, there were 234 active cases reported in the county. The numbers have risen drastically since then.

The rise in cases has led to the Hamblen County school system looking at other options to help flatten the curb.

Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, sent out a memo to parents late Monday requesting that parents keep their elementary students at home for the entire week after Thanksgiving break.

Previously, he requested that elementary students stay home for the first three days.

He said data is showing that need has changed.

“We have seen an increase at the elementary level, and we anticipate the number of cases will continue to rise at all levels,” Perry said. “For this reason, we are extending the virtual option at elementary school for the remainder of the week after Thanksgiving.”

He stressed that the option to stay out of school is voluntary and not mandatory. Any parent who wishes their child to attend in-person will still be able to do so.

For high school and middle school students, they will also have the option to stay at home and conduct virtual learning for that week.

Perry said that for elementary students, there will be paper assignments they can take home and work on during the week-long absence.

The school system reported a total of 40 active cases of students and staff on Tuesday.

In Jefferson County, the school system has also taken steps to curb the spread of the virus.

Shane Johnston, director of Jefferson County Schools, said Monday that the virus had spread enough that within a week the number of students in quarantine had risen from 167 to 474 and active cases had gone from 18 to 47 students and staff in a week.

Johnston announced Sunday that Wednesday to Friday would now be digital-learning days. The school system will also have digital-learning days on Monday and Tuesday, which were previously scheduled.

The total number of active cases in Hamblen County is rapidly approaching levels seen during the peak of the virus at the end of July and beginning of August.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force has listed Hamblen County in the red zone since Nov. 8. It was previously in the red zone during July and August as well until Brittain issued a mask mandate and the number of active cases substantially decreased. A further decrease occurred when the state changed its system of reporting in mid-August.

The seven-day positivity rate in Hamblen County is at 20.2%. At the peak, the seven-day average for new cases hit 51, according to state records. As of Monday, the county is at a seven-day average of 43 new cases per week, records show.

Brittain stressed the public needs to wear masks and stay away from crowds. He also stressed the importance of washing hands thoroughly and using hand sanitizer.

“It’s up to the public,” Brittain said. “It’s up to everyone to do their part.”