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Elderly Hawkins woman dies in mobile home fire

ROGERSVILLE — A 75-year-old Hawkins County woman was killed in a mobile home fire Thursday evening on Stanley Valley Road near Rogersville.

The cause of the blaze hadn’t been determined as of Friday afternoon, and the victim’s name has not been released.

Although the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was called to the scene, Stanley Valley Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Chris Vaughan said the fire didn’t appear to be suspicious.

At about 5:44 p.m., the Stanley Valley VFD was dispatched to a fully engulfed structure fire with possible entrapment.

Firefighters arrived just minutes after the initial page. Volunteers from Striggersville and Carters Valley responded to the scene as well.

Vaughan established command and observed heavy fire showing on three of the four sides of the residence with flames coming through the roof.

“The side of the residence without flames visible had thick, black smoke pouring quickly from the windows,” Vaughan stated in his report. “The front side of the residence, where the living room area was, had burnt so quickly that firefighters were able to extinguish the fire while being outside of the structure due to the siding burning entirely through. As firefighters were controlling the blaze, another fire crew had made their way into the section of the residence that did not have flames showing in order to perform a primary search.”

Vaughan added, “As the fire was being controlled more in the living room area, firefighters were able to clear the thick smoke enough to locate a deceased female near what appeared to be a bed around a large amount of debris.”

The woman lived in the older model mobile home with a son who wasn’t there at the time of the fire.

The Red Cross was called to the scene to assist him with temporary lodging and other necessities.

GATE CITY — Several Scott County families were on hand to celebrate National Adoption Day in Gate City on Friday afternoon.

COVID-19 in NET: Region sees six deaths, 274 cases

Northeast Tennessee’s daily number of COVID-19 cases remained below 300 on Friday as the state’s total climbed above 3,000.

Six new COVID-19 deaths were reported in the region, bringing the area’s total to 380. One death was reported in Carter County, two in Johnson and three in Washington.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 74 additional deaths and 3,444 new cases brought the Volunteer State’s pandemic totals to 4,202 deaths (3,872 confirmed as COVID-19 and 330 probable) and 331,532 cases (306,892 confirmed as COVID-19 and 24,640 probable). Of the pandemic total statewide cases, 287,908 (87%) were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

The new case numbers were based on 21,287 test results statewide, since the day before, with a positive rate of 14.76% — a 0.45% increase from Thursday.

Ballad Health’s Friday daily COVID-19 scorecard reported a seven-day test positivity rate of 18.1% for the system’s 21-county coverage area.

Other numbers from Ballad on Friday:

• 84 COVID-19 deaths in the system’s service area during the past seven days;

• 220 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, 39 in intensive care, and 30 on ventilators;

• 323,137 total cases and 631 total deaths in the system’s service area since March 1.

Seven of Northeast Tennessee’s eight counties had new cases reported on Friday, according to the TDH, for a total of 274 new cases. Cases by county: 135 in Sullivan; 61 in Washington; 22 in Greene; 26 in Carter; 20 in Hawkins; nine in Unicoi; one in Johnson; and none in Hancock.

Total cases in Northeast Tennessee reached 20,205 on Friday. By county: 5,755 in Sullivan; 5,338 in Washington; 2,715 in Greene; 2,453 in Carter; 1,727 in Hawkins; 1,351 in Johnson; 728 in Unicoi; and 138 in Hancock.

Active cases in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 741 in Sullivan; 670 in Washington; 352 in Carter; 386 in Greene; 245 in Hawkins; 124 in Unicoi; 68 in Johnson; and seven in Hancock.

With 74 deaths reported statewide on the TDH COVID-19 dashboard, cases were listed in the age group breakdown as: 32 in the 81-plus group; 26 in the 71-80 group; seven in the 61-70 group; seven in the 51-60 group; two in the 41-50 group; minus one (TDH adjustment) in the 31-40 group; and one in the 21-30 age group.

LENOWISCO Health Department director recommends school divisions stop in-person classes until after holidays
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WISE — LENOWISCO Health District’s director has called for eight Southwest Virginia school systems to move to virtual classes until after Christmas break, citing rising COVID-19 infection rates and many area residents failing to wear masks and follow health guidelines.

Dr. Sue Cantrell, who directs both the LENOWISCO and neighboring Cumberland Plateau health districts, said Friday that she put the recommendation into an information slide distributed last week to school officials in Wise, Lee, Scott, Dickenson, Russell, Buchanan and Tazewell counties and the city of Norton.

“I recommended schools consider changing to virtual for the (three) scheduled weeks from the end of Thanksgiving break to the beginning of the regularly scheduled Christmas break,” Cantrell said. “This recommendation is due to the high and rising burden of COVID disease, the increasing percent positive test results locally and regionally, and the lack of significant adoption of mitigation measures by many people.”

Cantrell said health and safety measures disregarded by many area residents include: wearing masks, physically distancing, avoiding gatherings with people outside their own household, avoiding non-essential travel, and washing hands frequently and properly. She credited school systems with doing a good job on cleaning and mitigation, but noted that community spread still exposes staff and students.

“In these (eight) localities, the risks associated with travel and gathering with those outside one’s household — social, extended family, church related, entertainment, etc. — have shown little indication of abatement as case numbers rise,” Cantrell added.

Citing rising case numbers and an expected increase related to holiday travel and gatherings, Cantrell said, “It takes three to four weeks to see the effect of mitigation efforts or lack of them.” Moving to virtual instruction from the Thanksgiving holiday until resumption of classes in January would help school divisions be ready to start in-person classes then, she added.

In an email to Buchanan County Schools Superintendent Melanie Hibbitts, Cantrell also cited Ballad Health’s hospital capacity and that health system’s search for 350 nurses as factors to consider for stopping in-person instruction until January.

Officials in the Wise, Lee, Scott and Norton school systems all confirmed on Friday that they had received Cantrell’s recommendations and informed their respective school boards.

Students in Scott County Schools returned to in-person learning on Nov. 16 after learning remotely Nov. 2-13. Assistant Superintendent Jason Smith said Friday that Superintendent John Ferguson had likely received the virtual learning recommendations from Cantrell either last week or this week.

Smith added that while school officials do take Cantrell’s guidance into consideration, it is just one piece of information they use to make learning decisions. Smith said school officials currently hope to continue in-person learning through the rest of the semester.

“Anything from Dr. Cantrell is always part of the discussion that we have as far as what we’re looking at for learning,” Smith said. “She’s an invaluable resource, but we look at several different metrics, including our own school metrics, which would be the amount of students positive, amount of students in quarantine, staff positive, staff quarantined. That gives us great data of how we are performing and functioning as a school system, separate than the county metrics.”

As of Friday morning, Smith said 80 students and 18 staff are currently in quarantine. Seven students and three staff have recently tested positive.

“Our metrics have come down tremendously over the past three weeks,” Smith said, adding that he credits the time spent in virtual learning earlier this month as a contributing factor to the lower metrics.

Smith said Ferguson has the authority to make short-term changes to the learning plan, if needed. Scott County Schools will begin a two-week Christmas break on Dec. 18, and the last day of the semester is Jan. 8.

Wise County Superintendent Greg Mullins echoed Smith in saying that he and staff are monitoring health metrics data from the Virginia Department of Health to assess any need for instructional changes. The division in September completed a two-week run of all-virtual instruction after concerns of rising infection rates in the county along with several reported cases among faculty and staff at that time.

“We’ve found that cases have not been due to in-school transmission,” Mullins said, adding that cases reported among schools have come from those persons’ exposure to community spread. “We meet with health department officials every week and we inform our board members.”

Wise County begins its Christmas break on Dec. 21 with a return on Jan. 2 and the end of the first semester on Jan. 19.

Norton Schools Superintendent Gina Wohlford said she has been monitoring both city and Wise County metrics, since Norton is almost in the geographic center of the county. Reported cases at the division’s two schools have resulted from exposure to community spread and not in-school transmission, she added. School officials have publicly reported 10 cases among students or staff since the school year began in August, but no changes have been made to instructional schedules.

Norton schools begin Christmas break on Dec. 21, with students returning on Jan. 7 to start the spring semester.

Lee County Superintendent Brian Austin said the county schools started an all-remote class schedule on Thursday in response to rising infection rates county-wide. That schedule overlaps with Thanksgiving break on Nov. 26-27, with students returning to in-person classes on Nov. 30. Students will also revert to remote instruction Dec. 21-23 before Christmas break runs Dec. 24 — Jan. 1. The school year’s third quarter begins Jan. 2.

“We keep the school board updated on health metrics and the school situation,” Austin said. “We do a good job with mitigation in the schools, but the challenge comes with the weekend, when people are out with friends or exposed to extended family members.”

COVID-19 in SW Va: 27 cases in LENOWISCO Health District

Daily new death and new case totals eased in far Southwest Virginia, according to Friday’s state data report.

The Virginia Department of Health said the LENOWISCO Health District tallied 27 cases and two deaths for totals of 2,617 and 57 deaths during the pandemic.

Scott County had 13 cases for totals of 672 and 12 deaths. Wise County saw eight cases and one death for 1,097 and 33 deaths.

Lee County added six cases and a death for 783 and 12 deaths.

Norton remained at 65 cases and no deaths.

The VDH reported that the state had 2,544 new cases and 16 additional deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 213,331 cases and 3,912 deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Friday’s VDH report was 3,439,600 of 8.63 million residents, or 39.86%. For nasal swab testing only, 3,035,632 people have been tested to date, or 35.18%. In the LENOWISCO district, 22,394 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 25.9%.

testing rates by locality

• Lee County, 7,042 of 23,423, or 30.06%

• Norton, 2,104 of 3,981, or 52.85%

• Wise County, 8,417 of 37,383, or 22.52%

• Scott County, 4,831 of 21,566, or 22.4%

According to the VDH’s weekly school outbreak dashboard, an outbreak at Gate City Middle School in Scott County remains in progress with seven students and/or staff affected. Another outbreak in Scott County — at Gate City Christian School— was reported on Nov. 10 and has affected fewer than five students and/or staff.

An outbreak at Union Primary School in Wise County remains pending closing with five students and/or staff affected.

Outbreaks at Lee High School and St. Charles Elementary School in Lee County have been designated closed.

Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and no active staff/contractor cases, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases but added one case for a single active staff case.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Friday’s report rose from 15.6% to 16.9%. The statewide positivity rate decreased from 7.1% to 7%.

According to Friday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, cases in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as rising after a 60-day increase in cases.

The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 41-day increase in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. Scott County and Norton city schools were ranked higher-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Wise and Lee counties and Norton city schools were ranked lowest-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.

The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 for an appointment.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk a user through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.

Deer graze in a snow-dusted lawn in Kingsport’s Arcadia community in this file photo. When animal populations are high and hungry, they will eat about anything. You can protect your landscape from hungry deer, rabbits and voles this winter by preparing this fall before their winter dining habits begin.