JOHNSON CITY — Northeast Tennessee counties reported five new novel coronavirus-related fatalities on Tuesday, the most reported in the region since late February.
New deaths were reported in Carter (+1), Greene (+2), Hawkins (+1) and Washington (+1) counties. Tuesday’s death toll is the largest reported since Feb. 23 and accounts for 7% of all deaths reported this month.
Since the first week of March, the region has not reported more than 10 deaths in a single week.
Over the past week, Washington County has reported the most new deaths (3) and the most new hospitalizations (8) in the region. Greene and Hawkins counties have each reported two deaths in the past week, while Sullivan County has added seven new hospitalizations over that time.
The Greene County Health Department is hosting a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination pod on Wednesday using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The pod, located at 4850 Andrew Johnson Highway, will open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and again from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Appointments are required for the first window but not from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Those with an appointment during the later window, however, will be fast-tracked to get their shot.
Vaccines are available to anyone 16 or older, and you can book an appointment at vaccinate.tn.gov. If you need assistance, call the Northeast Regional COVID-19 Registration Line at (423) 979-4689 Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
There is another vaccine event planned for Thursday at the same site from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. There are also vaccination events planned in Elizabethton (Wednesday) and Surgoinsville (Thursday), with neither requiring an appointment.
Those locations are:
• 386 Tennessee Highway 91, Elizabethton. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday.
• 951 Phipps Bend Road, Surgoinsville. 9 a.m. to noon. Thursday.
Cases: 52,672 (+77). Past seven days: 706
New cases by county: Carter 9, Greene 2, Hancock -1, Hawkins 2, Johnson 1, Sullivan 47, Unicoi 0, Washington 17.
Active cases: 1,147 (-13)
Active cases by county: Carter 126, Greene 89, Hancock 6, Hawkins 125, Johnson 25, Sullivan 430, Unicoi 31, Washington 315.
New tests: 305 (14.43% positivity rate)
New hospitalizations: 4. Past seven days: 34
Deaths: 1,030 (+5). Past seven days: 10
Cases: 810,529 (+837)
New tests: 8,945 (6.63% positivity)
Deaths: 11,894 (+28)
Active cases: 12,957 (-602)
Inactive cases: 785,678 (+1,411)
Current hospitalizations: 816 (-8)
COVID-19 inpatients: 94 (+9)
Patients under investigation: 0
Patients in intensive care: 24 (+2)
Patients on a ventilator: 11 (-2)
Designated beds available: 19
First-dose vaccines administered: 37,433 (+1,191)
Second-dose vaccines administered: 30,278 (+157)
All Northeast Tennessee counties are now vaccinating all adults 16 and older.
Not sure if you’re eligible? Tennesseans can determine their vaccine eligibility and request an appointment by visiting bit.ly/2YcVMcT and highlighting their county of residence. Additionally, you can call (866) 442-5301 for more information.
To register for a vaccine, visit bit.ly/2ZVJS8c. Ballad Health is also offering vaccine appointments to all adults at its Elizabethton and Kingsport locations, which you can register for by visiting bit.ly/3e1ru5Y. Ballad also has vaccine centers in Abingdon and Norton.
To find other vaccination sites, such as pharmacies and grocery stores, visit covidvaccinefinder.org.
The Sullivan County Regional Health Department is vaccinating people at Whitetop Creek Park and the Kingsport Civic Auditorium by appointment only. Call (423) 279-2777 to schedule an appointment and check bit.ly/3a6ZVoc for the latest information and to pre-download and fill out the vaccine paperwork.
Drive-up testing is available for free at the following sites, Monday-Friday:
Carter County: 8:30-9:30 a.m., Monday-Wednesday, Friday, 10:30-11:30 a.m. Thursday. 403 E. G St., Elizabethton, 423-543-2521.
Greene County: 2:30-3:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, 4850 Andrew Jackson Highway, Greeneville, 423-798-1749.
Hancock County: 8:30-9:30 a.m., Monday-Friday, 178 Willow St., Sneedville, 423-733-2228.
Hawkins County-Church Hill: 8:30-9:30 a.m., Monday-Friday 247 Silver Lake Road, Church Hill, 423-357-5341.
Hawkins County-Rogersville: 8:30-9:30 a.m., Monday-Friday, 201 Park Blvd., Rogersville, 423-272-7641.
Johnson County: 8:30-9:30 a.m., Monday-Friday, 715 W. Main St., Mountain City, 423-727-9731.
Sullivan County-Blountville: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday, 154 Blountville Bypass, Blountville. Call (423) 279-2777 to register.
Unicoi County: 8:30-9:30 a.m., Monday-Friday, 101 Okolona Drive, Erwin, 423-743-9103.
Washington County: 8:30-9:30 a.m., 219 Princeton Road, Johnson City, 423-975-2200.
Note: COVID-19 self-tests will be offered to adults on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Individuals will remain in their vehicles while completing paperwork and collecting their samples. Health departments will submit the samples for testing.
Children and adults unable to register online can still receive the standard nasal swab COVID-19 tests on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
BIG STONE GAP — Mountain Empire Community College and its sisters across Virginia will be able to make several degree and certificate programs tuition free this fall, thanks to a $36 million program signed into law this week.
The “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” package signed on Monday by Gov. Ralph Northam stems from a campaign by Northam in the past two years for the Virginia Community College System to provide tuition-free job training in high-demand fields.
Northam, in Monday’s signing ceremony, said the G3 program focuses on training and degree programs including health care, information technology and computer science, manufacturing and skilled trades, public safety and early childhood education.
MECC President Kristin Westover on Tuesday said the G3 program will allow students in several dozen MECC programs to take advantage of free tuition starting in the 2021-22 academic year.
“We’ve got 80 programs that are fully fundable under G3, from associate of applied science degrees and career certificates to industry-accepted training,” Westover said. “This creates an incredible opportunity for students looking to train in several professions.”
“The governor’s G3 initiative will make earning the necessary skills to fully participate in our 21st century economy affordable for more Virginians,” Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn Dubois said during the bill signing. “Virginia’s 23 community colleges are ready to help students prepare for and succeed in the high-demand jobs of today and tomorrow.”
While Northam said G3 will cover tuition, books and fees, Westover said the program initially will be tuition-only. She said students receiving financial aid such as Pell grants will see that aid supplemented with G3 funds to cover their entire tuition cost. Other financial aid such as scholarships can be used by students to cover books and materials.
“In many programs we look to include materials online that help reduce students’ book costs,” Westover said, pointing to the college’s experience during the pandemic with online courses and use of online texts and learning resources.
Westover said the college’s ongoing strategic planning process is looking at ways to make book costs part of the free-tuition program.
The range of programs may differ between community colleges, Westover said, but the 80 G3-eligible MECC programs include law enforcement and corrections; nursing and associated health sciences and medical records/billing; the college’s energy science program; welding and fabrication; electrical work; computer science; and several other degree programs associated with entering a career.
Westover said G3 also covers any general education courses required as part of any of the eligible career-track programs.
G3 will also help students at the lowest income levels with expenses including food, transportation and child care. Full-time students who qualify for a full federal Pell grant will receive student-support incentive grants on a semester basis up to $900 per semester and up to $450 per summer term. Community colleges will see a performance payment for every eligible student receiving a student-support incentive grant that successfully completes 30 credit hours. For each student earning an associate degree, the colleges will see an additional performance payment.
G3 also will fund two career counseling positions to help incoming students find a training or career program that fits their goals, Westover said.
While G3 does not start officially until the fall 2021 semester, Westover said that federal CARES Act and other federal and state funding that became available from the COVID-19 pandemic could allow students looking at training in a new career to get a head start with summer classes.
Students planning to enter the G3 program need to file federal and state student financial aid applications, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In the wake of pandemic-related drops in FAFSA completion Northam recently announced a statewide effort to offer free, one-on-one FAFSA advising. Until June 30, 2021, Virginia students and families can go to virginiacan.org/fafsa to schedule a virtual meeting with a FAFSA adviser.
“If students come to us this summer, we will try to find a way to get them financial aid,” Westover said.
KINGSPORT — All major cell phone carriers in the area now offer text to 911 for their Kingsport customers, according to a Tuesday morning news release from the Kingsport Police Department.
Effective immediately, T-Mobile customers in the Kingsport Emergency Communications District will be able to text to 911. Text to 911 was already available for Verizon and AT&T Wireless customers.
While text to 911 is now possible, the KPD emphasized that calling is the preferred method for contacting 911. Just as when calling 911, texting 911 should only be done in the event of an actual emergency.
Text to 911 is especially beneficial to those who are hearing- or speech-impaired, but citizens should only text 911 when calling 911 is unsafe or not possible.
Examples include callers who can’t speak due to a threat, illness or medical condition, callers who have poor reception and can only send text messages, or when phone lines and cell phone towers are overwhelmed and only texts can get through.
If you send a text message to 911, you should always try to include the following information:
• Your name.
• Your location (specific address, intersection or mile-marker).
• The particular type of emergency you are experiencing (medical, fire, crime in progress, etc.).
• Your telephone number (in case the Caller ID feature fails to provide it).
The news release added that residents shouldn’t send an initial text to 911 and then put their phone down and forget it, as texting 911 will be a two-way interactive conversation. Text to 911 may not always work due to a variety of factors beyond the KPD’s control. Try to have a backup plan to call 911 if your message isn’t received.
The news release includes a few other tips for texting to 911, including those below:
• Emojis, ideograms, smileys and GIFs should never be used.
• Text shorthand (TTYL, IIRC, IMHO, etc.) should never be used.
• Pictures and videos are not compatible with text to 911 at this time, but they might be added later.
• Messages need to be clear, concise and written in plain and simple, easy-to-understand language.
BLOUNTVILLE — Northeast State Community College is planning a return to “normal” for the fall 2021 semester.
Just call it “fall back into fall” as priority registration continues this week.
However, students, staff and faculty shouldn’t get rid of those face masks or forget about Zoom classes just yet since face coverings and social distancing likely will remain and about half of classes still won’t be held in-person.
With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, falling case numbers and health measures used during the past year, Northeast officials are optimistic they can bring back students, faculty and staff safely.
In addition, college officials report surveys on campus indicate support for the move.
Northeast spokesman Bob Carpenter said Tuesday that priority registration began on Monday and that will help school officials further gauge interest in more in-person offerings if they are feasible based on the pandemic conditions.
He said the college will continue to monitor the ever-evolving nature of the pandemic.
He said it will adhere to ongoing guidance from the Tennessee Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Depending on circumstances, social distancing, face coverings, hand washing and contact tracing, cleaning procedures and health screenings may remain in place during the fall.
“The health and safety of the college’s community will continue to be the top priority,” Northeast State President Bethany Bullock said in a news release. “We want everyone to feel at ease and safe about the return to our campuses this fall.”
Bullock said the school has conducted several surveys this spring with students, faculty and staff, finding that most respondents are comfortable with what the college is calling “a fall back into fall” routine.
Connie Marshall, vice president for academic affairs, said more than 50% of fall classes would be held in-person, coupled with substantial online course offerings.
“Students have indicated a preference for both types of classes,” Marshall said. “As a result, we will offer varied formats that best suit the learning styles of our students.”
Marshall said these would include in-person, internet, a hybrid combination of those two, synchronous Zoom and synchronous Zoom hybrid delivery methods. Marshall also said the summer 2021 semester schedule would offer limited in-person classes, and safety protocols then would follow current practices.
“I think it’s still early on that” projected percentage of in-person versus virtual, Carpenter said by phone. “Whether that will be 50-50, 60-40 or 70-30, I don’t know.”
The internet format is akin to watching a video of a lecture anytime, while the Zoom classes are in real time with interaction and Zoom hybrid a mixture of that and the internet format.
“You can pick which one makes you feel comfortable to take the class,” Carpenter said, although he said not all classes will have all format options.
Before summer and fall, Northeast State is planning in-person events this spring for its annual Honors Convocation and Commencement to move toward more normal operations for students, although they will not allow in-person family and friends at the events.
“Those are mainly just for the students to be there without any guests,” Carpenter said.
These events will let students participate in-person with face coverings and social-distancing protocols. The college will live-stream the events for family and friends.
“We are ready to pivot in case the COVID-19 situation changes,” Bullock said. “However, we are excited about returning to normal and seeing our campuses full of energy and life.”