Task Force members concerned about rising virus numbers

The Hamblen County COVID-19 Task Force met Tuesday in a Zoom meeting and the message was clear – everyone needs to do their part as cases continue to rise in Hamblen County.

People need to wear masks and wash their hands.

“If it’s a viable option to wear a mask then it should be done,” said Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent.

Cases in Hamblen County continue to rise and the state said last week the county is now considered a “hot spot.”

The amount of total positives since the outbreak began in Hamblen County is 229 and the amount of active cases is 92, rapidly approaching triple digits.

Officials said that on Monday a total of 44 people tested positive for the virus. Officials said the majority of those cases have come from the Hispanic population.

“We do have to do something or that could be an explosion there,” Perry said.

Task force members said they are going to try to extend outreach to the Hispanic population in an effort to try and curb those numbers.

Another constant concern for task force members is the opening of Hamblen County schools, which is scheduled for July 31.

Sherrie Montgomery, director for the Hamblen County Health Department, said she has requested metrics from the state that would give some sense of what numbers local officials should look at on reopening or closing schools. She said the state has metrics in place for nursing homes.

Perry said if those metrics are being developed, he will need them as soon as possible.

“We’re probably one of the earliest schools to open up,” he said. “We’re about 30 days away.”

Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney said the numbers of total and active cases alarmed him and he sees something that’s even more worrisome. The number of cases exceeds areas that are larger than Morristown.

“We have more active cases that Washington and Sullivan counties combined,” he said.

Perry agreed that the spike in cases is worrisome.

“It’s beginning to worry me more than it did last week,” he said.

One piece of relative good news is the amount of negative tests that came from the jail. After several inmates and a correction officer tested positive last week there were 322 inmates and correction officers tested. There were eight positives from the 322, Montgomery said.

“That’s good news,” she said.

For a business update, Marshal Ramsey, president of the Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce, said he’s hearing the most worry from retailers and restaurants.

“They’re worried about another shutdown,” he said.

He said he is telling those businessess just to make sure they are following the guidelines as set forth by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in his “Tennessee Pledge.”

Currently, local officials said there are a total of 10 people who have been hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Aundrea Mills, chief nursing officer for Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare Systems, said there have been a total of 27 people hospitalized at MHHS since the outbreak began.

She said there are beds available and ventilators available. She also said there is a sufficient amount of personal protective equipment on hand compared to a few months ago when the outbreak started.

Task force members asked Mills how staff was holding up as the numbers rise.

She said they are slowly starting to experience what they expected a few months ago.

“We’re pulling together,” she said.

She reiterrated the message of the task force, which will post a new video later today – wear masks and wash your hands.

“We all have to do our part,” she said.