Hamblen County Task Force discusses Hispanic outreach efforts

As COVID-19 active cases saw a spike in cases on Wednesday, the Hamblen County COVID-19 Task Force had a message.

The season is not over and there are a lot of games left to be played.

“The virus is as contagious as ever,” said Dr. Tom Thompson, Hamblen County medical examiner. “It just didn’t become less contagious.”

The Hamblen County COVID-19 Task Force met virtually Wednesday afternoon to review the coronavirus’s impact over the last week.

As they were meeting, they learned that active cases had gone up from 84 on Tuesday to 114 on Wednesday.

This led members to talk about the mask mandate and how it has helped lower cases since it was implemented on Aug. 4 by Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain.

Gordon Lintz, president and chief administration officer for Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare Systems, asked a question of the board.

“If we had not done what we did then what would the numbers look like?” he asked.

Records show that the number of active cases drastically went down after the mask mandate was ordered even accounting for a change in the way the state reports data. The county’s COVID-19 cases peaked at the end of July and at that time had been labeled a hot spot by state and federal officials.

Thompson compared the coronavirus to football season. He said teams play games throughout the season, but if you’re playing games that doesn’t mean you stop practicing.

He said personally he’s going to the store, he’s going work, he’s going to dine out and he plans on going to UT games when they play at home.

“I’m doing that, but I’m wearing a mask,” he said.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee gave authorization for county mayors to issue mask mandates in July and was renewed in August. The order is set to expire at the end of this month, but Brittain said he expects the governor to renew the order.

Brittain did not indicate Wednesday whether he would extend the county’s mask mandate order.

But, Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, said backing off the mandate would affect schools.

“If we back off this mask mandate, we’re going to have to send more kids home,” he said.

He said he believed if the county does not extend the mask mandate it may mean “wiping out” entire classrooms and it may bring the school system to the limit of effectively teaching within schools.

“If people didn’t wear masks, I’m not sure I’d have enough teachers to teach,” he said.

Lintz told the task force that there had been a slight increase in hospitalizations at MHHS due to COVID-19, but most of those haven’t required ventilators. He said people are coming in earlier, which has led hospital staff to start treatments earlier.

He said those cases comes just a few weeks after Labor Day.

“We did anticipate an uptick after Labor Day weekend,” he said.

Many of those have been younger than previous patients and are within their 40s and 50s, he said.

Sherrie Montgomery, Hamblen County Health Department director, said there has also been an increase in testing.

She said on Monday the health department tested 96 people. On Tuesday, it was more than 150 and on Wednesday they tested more than 170 people.