Hamblen County Task Force discusses Hispanic outreach efforts

The Hamblen County COVID-19 Task Force met virtually Wednesday and had one statement: Members of the task force fully support Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain’s mask mandate.

“The city mayor is in full support of that mask mandate and continuing that mask mandate,” said Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney.

Brittain extended the mask mandate for a second time Tuesday until Oct. 30.

He had first issued a mask mandate on Aug. 4 during the peak of positive coronavirus cases that had Hamblen County listed as a hot spot by state and federal authorities.

Since that time, the number of active cases dropped even accounting for a change in how the state reports data.

Over the last two weeks, the numbers have slowly started to rise once again after Labor Day and school reopening.

The task force members said they knew the struggles with issuing the mask mandate, but said it is necessary.

“We appreciate you doing that,” Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, said. “I know it’s not always easy.”

Leigh Price-Sempkowski, owner of Thrive Marketing, asked if there could be the potential to run a public service announcement during football games. She suggested possibly running a video during halftime.

Perry said they could probably work that out.

“It is possible we can do that,” he said.

He said at this point there are a total of 18 active cases in the school system. He said there have been 22 students and 16 staff members who have tested positive.

So far, he said 0.4 percent of the school population has been infected, so the numbers are still low.

One of the largest concerns the school system has though, he said, is people taking off masks during football games at Burke-Toney Stadium and congregating together on the 50-yard line. He said he didn’t necessarily care if a family sat away from the crowd and had no masks.

He said if the trend continues, the school system may have to look at closing off the stands along the 50-yard line.

He also pointed out in a virtual forum Tuesday night there were people saying they supported a mask mandate. He said the school system has mostly heard from people saying to get rid of it.

“This is the first time we had people who said if you list the mask mandate we’re going to leave school,” he said.

Brittain updated the task force that flu shots have started at the Hamblen County Health Department. He said they would have a drive-through testing event on Oct. 10 off South Cumberland Avenue and another event in November.

Dr. Tom Thompson, Hamblen County medical examiner, said the number of cases going to ICU at the hospital has dropped and the number of cases have dropped at Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare Systems.

He said he fully supported the mask mandate and he knows it’s an inconvenience.

But, he said he became used to wearing a mask.

He said he knows many people are tired of the coronavirus.

“I’m tired of it too,” he said. “But that doesn’t make it go away.”