Hamblen labeled COVID hot spot by state of Tennessee

The Hamblen County COVID-19 Task Force met Wednesday morning via a Zoom meeting after the state labeled the county a “hot spot.”

Sherrie Montgomery, director of the Hamblen County and Jefferson County Health Departments, said the virus transmission has changed within the area from group transmissions – households and family members – to individual transmissions.

“It’s considered to be community transmitted,” she said.

“There’s not really any rhyme or reason where we are seeing it,” she said.

As cases continue to climb in Hamblen County, Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the state Department of Health, said in a state update Tuesday that Hamblen County was now considered a hot spot. The state is developing a plan, she said.

“You’ll probably remember we did that in Hamilton County and Sevier County in the last couple of weeks when we saw increases there. Obviously that work continues,” she said. “Most recently we’ve seen increases in Wilson and Hamblen counties and we’ll start developing plans for those spots.”

Hamblen County currently has 137 positive tests and 79 people who have recovered from the virus.

Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney and Montgomery said in the meeting that they had not heard from the state as of yet. But are open to hear about any suggestions.

Aundrea Mills, chief nursing officer for Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare Services, said there are currently four people hospitalized and confirmed as having COVID-19.

There are seven others in the hospital awaiting test results, she said.

But, she said the hospital system is not stressed at this point.

“We’re not at max capacity,” she said. “We have beds available today.”

Task force members talked about how there have been clusters of the virus identified at Lakeway Achievement Center and at the workhouse of the Hamblen County Jail.

There have been 12 inmates and one corrections officer at the workhouse that tested positive.

All inmates and corrections officers within the main jail have been tested and county officials are awaiting the test results.

“The results we get back will be interesting,” said Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain.

Montgomery said she feels even if the test results come back negative at this point, the jail will still be vulnerable. She said evidence across the country points toward jails being a high risk area.

Healthcare officials said there have been at least six healthcare workers, across multiple agencies that have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Lakeway Area since the outbreak began. Officials added it is unclear whether the workers were infected via community spread during activities outside of their job.

The task force talked about the idea of starting an education campaign.

As the cases continue to climb, task force members agreed the public just isn’t following the guidelines.

“The challenge is getting the public to buy in,” Chesney said.

He said it may be worth calling store managers and asking them to be more diligent in counting the number of people who enter a business.

“This is not just the old people will have a hard time and the rest of us will be OK,” he said.

The task force talked about perhaps starting an education campaign with healthcare providers giving advice to remind people to follow the guidelines, such as wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing.

Chesney also said he sees too much politicizing of the virus.

“This isn’t a political disease,” he said. “It’s universal.”

Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, said an advertising campaign focusing on wearing masks could put the school system in a tough spot because they are telling students that they will be optional when school opens on July 31.

“There’s consequences if we bring them back to school, there’s consequences if we don’t,” he said.

Task force members said they believed the message is simple for the public.

“Follow the guidelines,” Brittain said.