Hamblen County Task Force discusses Hispanic outreach efforts

Details of a successful coronavirus outreach within the Hispanic community near Hillcrest Elementary were one of several positive reports during Wednesday’s meeting of the Hamblen County Coronavirus Task Force.

Sherrie Montgomery, director of the Hamblen County Health Department, said that Betsy Hurst and HOLA Lakeway hosted an event on Headrick Street under a canopy that invited people from the neighborhood to come learn about COVID-19.

In addition to distributing masks, there were Spanish-language visual aids and people translating and speaking about the importance of social distancing and following appropriate guidelines.

At least two other similar events are planned for other predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods.

In recent weeks, the task force has worked to increase outreach within the Hispanic community. Though the sample size is relatively small, it appears the number of Hamblen County COVID-19 deaths is disproportionately high among the Hispanic community.

Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said outreach to the Hispanic neighborhoods is a key part of the task force’s mission.

“We’re getting the word out to the Hispanic community, making sure they know about COVID and what they can do to protect themselves,” Brittain said. “It’s starting to make a difference. It doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods, it just means the efforts were making seem to be working and we’ve got to keep pushing.

“It’s so critical that we communicate with the Hispanic community. HOLA Lakeway is taking the message to the neighborhoods. That grassroot effort is what we need.”

After a record number of new cases in the county Tuesday, the number of new cases reported Wednesday was up only five and the total number of active cases dropped by 25 to 259.

Officials with Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System reported coronavirus intakes are down since the last meeting and the hospital has discharged some COVID patients who have recovered. The officials said the hospital numbers are trending downward and there are beds available.

Dr. Tom Thompson encouraged task force members to help spread the word that people feeling ill or suffering from other chronic illnesses should not shun seeking medical treatment.

Do not fear seeking treatment for non-COVID conditions, he said. They need to make their doctors’ appointments and continue to seek treatment.

Montgomery announced a change in testing vendor has resulted in decreased turnaround time for those tested at the health department. Whereas the previous turnaround time was a week or more, now tests results are being received 24 to 48 hours after they arrive at the lab.

Hamblen County Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Bell said the state will provide masks for students returning to school and face shields for every teacher in the system. It’s not 100 percent clear that the equipment will arrive in time for the start of school.

Marshall Ramsey, president of the Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce, reported that local industries said COVID related signage and information has been well received within local plants but warned that messages hung in breakrooms or on corkboards go stale quickly. Ramsey said fresh messaging would be well received.

Ramsey also noted that food production plants across the country have been places where COVID-19 has thrived, Morristown has, so far, not had to face that issue.

Early on, he said, one industry had a pair of cases, but was able to shut down a line, do extensive cleaning and avoid further spread.

He said education within industrial plants has helped.