Hamblen Task Force discusses COVID vaccine arrival

The Hamblen County COVID-19 Task Force spoke briefly Wednesday about the possibility of vaccines for the novel coronavirus arriving to the county as soon as next month.

But, local officials warned it would be a limited supply and only given to those who need it the most.

Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said Wednesday he had participated in a virtual meeting with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency who said there would be 360,000 vaccinations delivered to Tennessee, pending approval by the Federal Drug Administration.

Brittain said half the vaccines would be from Pfizer and the other half from Moderna.

There was no information regarding how many vaccinations may be coming to Hamblen County.

The two companies announced within the last two weeks that they had produced vaccinations for COVID-19 with more than 90% efficacy.

Tennessee was chosen as one of a few pilot states to distribute the vaccines.

Sherrie Montgomery, director of the Hamblen County Health Department, said the vaccines would go to people designated to be in the “first tier.” Those would include first responders and medical personnel who work directly with COVID patients.

The news of vaccines comes just days after Hamblen County saw a large spike in active cases. After the weekend, the number of active cases had spiked to more than 400. As of Wednesday, the state reported 377 active cases in the county and a positivity rate of 18%.

Brittain showed the task force a graph displaying the jump in cases within the last month.

Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare Systems officials said there were beds available at this time at the hospital, which has plenty of personal protective equipment.

They also said the hospital is allowing one visitor in per patient for non-COVID patients.

When asked if they were seeing the same increases in the hospital as in the community, Gordon Lintz, president and chief administrative officer of the hospital, said the hospital usually follows along with the community. But, he said they have not seen a sharp increase in COVID patients.

“It’s not as dramatic as what you see on that graph,” he said. “That’s shocking.”

Aundrea Mills, chief nursing officer for the hospital, said that Covenant Health, the parent company of the hospital, had approved bringing in some temporary help.

She said the amount of hours many staff members at the hospital have been working has been draining.

“This has been very longstanding,” she said. “This has been since March. They’re strong, but they’re tired.”

She said the hospital has taken steps to help with the mental and emotional well-being of hospital staff. She said they also appreciated the support they received a few weeks from Arrowhead Church who made them T-shirts.

“They’re a strong, positive group,” Mills said. “But they’re human.”

Dr. Jeff Perry also updated the task force on school numbers saying that there were around 40 active cases at this point. He said most of the cases so far have been coming from outside the school system.

The school system will be out next week for fall break and has requested high school and middle school students to also consider staying out of school the week after and conduct virtual training, which is completely voluntary. Elementary school students are being requested to stay out of school during the week and conduct homework assignments.

“We’re kind of glad Thanksgiving is coming up, so we can recuperate and rest up,” Perry said.

But, he also issued a word of warning about Thanksgiving. He said he sees it as being a possible super spreader event and it could prove to be disastrous because of the potential of people traveling and gathering in large groups.

“We know that train wreck is about to come and the sad thing is we can’t do anything about it,” he said.