Hamblen County has seen an increase of 100 active cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks.
But, local officials said there is little they can do except encourage people to get vaccinated and follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“It’s concerning...” Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain, chairman of the Hamblen County COVID-19 Task Force, said. “I don’t want for us as a community to return to the days when COVID was at its peak or going strong several months ago.”
Just two weeks ago, the county recorded 33 active cases of the coronavirus. A week ago, numbers had jumped to 58 active cases.
The amount of active cases within the county now is at 133, state records show.
The jump in cases comes as the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 is becoming the predominant strain of the coronavirus. The new variant is spiking as many states and counties in the south see low vaccination rates.
As of Wednesday, the amount of people in Hamblen County who have received one dose is 33.6% and those who have received two doses are just above 30%.
“What we’re trying to do is tell people to research the vaccines so they’ll be comfortable getting a vaccine,” Brittain said.
The CDC is encouraging the vaccinated and unvaccinated to start wearing masks once more and begin social distancing. As for Hamblen County, there is no measures for the county to once again have a mask mandate.
Tennessee counties that do not have their own health departments fall under the jurisdiction of the state. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order last year allowing county mayors the power to issue mask mandates. He has since repealed that order.
So, any authority for a mask mandate would have to come from the governor’s office first.
“I don’t have the authority,” Brittain said.
He said the Hamblen County Health Department is trying to conduct outreach programs by going to HealthStar once a week to vaccinate as well as companies across the county.
“The health department is just trying to make it as convenient as possible,” Brittain said.
HOLA Lakeway also announced Cherokee Health Systems would be conducting vaccinations on Thursday and encouraged people to get vaccinated as cases rise.
Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent and a member of the task force, said they suspected the number of active cases may go up within the county due to the low rate of vaccination.
“It never has not been a concern for us,” he said. “We’ve remained concerned about it since last March.”
He said the coronavirus has never gone away. The task force continues to monitor numbers and he said he has been in contact with Brittain to discuss the situation.
At this point, the school system still plans to open on Aug. 5 and continue the opening guidelines it put in place over the summer. There will be no mask mandate and athletic events will be open.
“We don’t have any plans to change the protocols in place,” Perry said.
He said if there is anything to change in the school system a public forum will be conducted first.
There is no “magic number” on what would change the school systems policies, he said. School administrators would have to take a look at whether there were enough teachers to teach or if there were enough students to teach.
The question is simple.
“When does the number of cases impact how we provide instruction?” he asked.