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COVID-19 in SWVA: Region tops 30 cases; Northam calls for communication campaign to mitigate behaviors

RICHMOND — Southwest Virginia residents will be the target of a state campaign calling for smaller holiday gatherings and more mask wearing as the far region saw a climb in daily COVID-19 case numbers in Tuesday’s state health data.

Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday said he had no plans to reimpose lockdown measures on the southwestern part of the state despite increases in daily case numbers and rising percentages of positive COVID-19 test results in the region.

In the past seven days of Virginia Department of Health data reports, the LENOWISCO Health District — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and the city of Norton — has seen 315 new COVID-19 cases compared to 82 in the same period in October and 66 cases Sept 4-10. The Nov. 4-10 period also includes a one-day record for new cases in the LENOWISCO district: 100 cases.

While Virginia is seeing a rise in cases and the percent positivity of COVID-19 tests, Northam said the increase has been relatively small statewide with a 6.2% testing positivity rate for PCR swab tests, the most accurate type of COVID-19 test. The entire southwest region had a test positivity rate around 9%, he said, and Ballad Health has expressed concerns about increased hospitalizations.

The western most LENOWISCO district posted a testing positivity rate of 13%.

Asked if he planned to reimpose lockdown measures in the southwest as he did in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads in the summer, Northam said that VDH is starting a “communication campaign” to ask southwest residents to follow VDH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health and safety measures, including wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and avoiding indoor gatherings. Part of that campaign includes asking residents to be aware that the novel coronavirus is transmittable by air when they plan any holiday gatherings.

“Take precautions around anyone who doesn’t live in your house, even family,” Northam said.

Northam recommended that anyone considering holiday gatherings look at staying outdoors if possible while wearing masks and washing hands. He said a statewide mask mandate for businesses and public spaces is still in effect, adding that enforcement actions were taken against four restaurants in the Richmond area recently. Violations of the mask mandate and state pandemic emergency orders are subject to civil penalties and fines.

VDH (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 1,435 new cases and 13 additional deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 194,912 cases and 3,726 deaths.

The LENOWISCO Health District saw 31 cases for totals of 2,169 and 31 deaths during the pandemic. Scott County saw 12 cases for totals of 535 and 9 deaths. Lee County had 11 cases for 685 and 11 deaths.

Wise County added eight cases for 887 and 11 deaths Norton remained at 62 cases and no deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Tuesday’s VDH report was 3,045,116 of 8.63 million residents, or 35.29%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,820,659 people have been tested to date, or 32.68%. In the LENOWISCO district, 21,060 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 24.35%.

testing rates by locality

• Lee County, 6,603 of 23,423, or 28.19%.

• Norton, 2,039 of 3,981, or 51.22%.

• Wise County, 7,851 of 37,383, or 21%.

• Scott County, 4,567 of 21,566, or 21.18%.

Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections COVID-19 webpage (https://vadoc.virginia.gov/news-press-releases/2020/covid-19-updates/).

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and three active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases and dropped one case to one active staff case.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Tuesday’s report dropped from 13.9% to 13%. The statewide positivity rate rose from 6.1% to 6.2%.

According to Tuesday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, cases in the far southwest region of Virginia were ranked as rising after a 50-day increase in cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 30-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. Wise County and Norton City schools were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Lee and Scott county 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 users through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.

RCS to remain virtual until Nov. 16 as Hawkins sees highest single-day COVID spike

Clarification: The Hawkins County school system remains on a four-day schedule. Fridays are virtual (except for students who are brought in by their teachers for remediation) to give teachers time to do planning and schools time for deep cleaning.

ROGERSVILLE — Rogersville City School remains on 100% virtual classroom status for the rest of this week as Hawkins County experienced its highest single-day spike in new COVID-19 cases Monday since the pandemic began.

RCS Superintendent J.T. Stroder told the Times News on Tuesday his school will return to the previous “mostly virtual” schedule beginning Nov. 16.

Stroder noted that RCS logged a spike in COVID cases on Oct. 29, resulting in the independent K-8 school switching to 100% virtual teaching beginning Nov. 2.

“We had some staff members who had COVID, and we had some students who had it,” Stroder said. “We were having trouble getting people to fill in for classes. We just closed down for 14 days and reset.”

Stroder added, “We had like seven or eight teachers who were quarantined and probably 40-plus students. Not all of them had it. They were just identified as being in close contact.”

Back to the mostly virtual schedule Nov. 16

On Oct. 26, RCS switched to a “mostly virtual” schedule due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the community at that time.

Students in grades K-2 were placed on an alternating schedule with half of the students in the classroom two days per week and the other half in the classroom the other two days per week.

Students in grades 3-8 stayed home and received their lessons via virtual classrooms, although teachers had the freedom to bring in students who needed extra help.

All students were in virtual classrooms on Fridays.

On Nov. 16, RCS will return to that mostly virtual schedule, Stroder said.

Hawkins schools down to 95 quarantined

Meanwhile, the Hawkins County school system remains on a four-day schedule. Fridays are virtual (except for students who are brought in by their teachers for remediation) to give teachers time to do planning and schools time for deep cleaning.

There are currently 15 active COVID-19 cases within the system (faculty, staff or students combined) including four at Volunteer High; one at Cherokee High; two at Joseph Rogers Primary; three at Surgoinsville Elementary; two at Bulls Gap School; and one each at Rogersville Middle, Church Hill Middle and Church Hill Intermediate.

Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Times News that as of Tuesday there were 111 students under quarantine district- wide due to potential exposure, although 16 of those were coming off quarantine Wednesday, bringing that total down to 95.

Hixson said he had heard Monday’s spike in new Hawkins County COVID cases was due to backlogged tests that were finally cleared.

He is also confident about continuing with the four-day week until Christmas break, when that schedule will be re-evaluated by the BOE.

“As long as we can target issues on a case by case basis and keep the majority of our staff healthy,” Hixson added.

236 cases in two weeks

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, on Monday Hawkins County recorded its highest total of single- day new COVID-19 cases with 42, topping the county’s previous record of 38 on Aug. 3.

Hawkins County had 236 new cases recorded over the past two weeks, and in the two weeks before that, there were another 240.

The TDH reports that as of Monday Hawkins County had a total of 1,462 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, 1,254 of which have recovered. Hawkins County also had a total of 70 COVID patients hospitalized and 30 COVID-associated deaths during the pandemic.

16 new COVID-19 deaths reported in Northeast Tennessee, among 62 statewide

Of 62 new COVID-19 deaths reported on Tuesday across Tennessee’s 95 counties, 16 (more than 25%) were reported in the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee.

The 16 new deaths in the region: six in Sullivan County; five in Washington County; two in Greene County; two in Carter County and one in Unicoi County.

The number of new cases in the region: 134. However, the region’s pandemic total increased by only 133, from 17,005 to 17,138, because the state adjusted the number of cases in Hancock County downward by one, from 128 on Monday to 127 on Tuesday.

New case numbers and total cases numbers include confirmed COVID-19 cases and cases listed as “probable” COVID-19.

Statewide, the 62 new deaths and 1,979 new cases brought Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 3,672 deaths (3,440 confirmed as COVID-19 and 232 probable) and 289,749 cases (271,405 confirmed as COVID-19 and 18,344 probable). More than 88% of cases (256,143) were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

The Tennessee Department of Health defines “inactive/recovered” as people who are: at least 14 days beyond their symptom onset date, or are at least 14 days beyond the first test confirming their illness if asymptomatic; and are not deceased.

The 62 new deaths reported statewide on Tuesday, by age group: 28 in the 81+ group; 15 in the 71-80 group; 12 in the 61-70 group; four in the 51-60 group; two in the 41-50 group; and one in the 31-40 group.

New cases numbers were based on 15,252 new test results statewide since Monday, with a positive rate of 12.4%.

The average positive rate over the past seven days in Northeast Tennessee counties ranged from -1.4% in Hancock County to 18.5% in Unicoi County.

That average in Sullivan County was 14%. In Washington County it was 14.6%. And in Hawkins County it was 10.8%.

How many tests were performed?

Seven-day averages ranged from 10.3 in Hancock County (which works out to 15.6 per 10,000 residents) to 569.1 in Sullivan County (which works out to 35.95 per 10,000 residents).

In Washington County, the seven-day average number of tests was 489.6 (which works out to 37.8 per 10,000 residents), and in Hawkins County the numbers were 170.4 average tests per day, or 30 per 10,000 residents).

Sullivan County’s daily case rate, per 100,000 residents, over the past seven days averaged 46.8. That number in Hawkins County was 38, and in Washington County it was 53.4.

Total cases to date, per 100,0000 residents: 3,519.5 in Washington County; 3,006.7 in Sullivan County; and 2,597.1 in Hawkins County.

Source: Tennessee Department of Health

City school board gets early learning, family portal updates

KINGSPORT — Of 600 incoming kindergarten students each year in Kingsport City Schools, about 300 attend preschool or pre-kindergarten in the school system and another 100 attend private school programs.

The remaining 200 or so incoming kindergarten students begin their K-12 academic careers without any pre-school or pre-K, according to KCS Early Childhood Coordinator Amy Doran.

And she said that needs to change in a school system that touts a “One Tribe” mantra for students from elementary school through high school. Tennessee doesn’t require pre-K or preschool.

“One Tribe begins at pre-K,” Doran told the Board of Education.


In a report to the school board at its Tuesday night meeting, Doran said the system would need more classroom space, transportation and teachers to add more pre-K students, all of which would require more money.

Doran, also principal of the Palmer Early Learning Center, said that a recent university study came to a different conclusion than an earlier Vanderbilt University study that pre-K benefits petered out by third grade.

Instead, Doran said the new study, which included someone directly involved in the Vanderbilt study, found that the benefits were long lasting as long as the K-12 education was up to par.

“We know it works. We need to start thinking outside the box,” Doran said. Superinten- dent Jeff Moorhouse said, “We spend the rest of their academic careers trying to make that up.”

This year, Doran said fewer pre-K students, about 270, are in KCS because of fewer special education students and because of a lessened demand overall that Doran attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said there is still a waiting list for pre-K slots.

The system operates three pre-K programs, Doran explained: one for special education or special needs children, one that is income-based and one that is tuition-based. Usually, the school system doesn’t support the tuition-based program, but Doran said that might change this year because of money woes attributed to the pandemic.

Doran said ways to reach more students include family liaisons finding siblings of older students who would qualify for pre-K, as well as a community child board working on the matter and a pilot program from Waterford UpStart that provides 200 free online licenses to offer pre-K help to those who want their children in kindergarten but are on a waiting list or can’t afford to pay for it.


A local option to be launched early next year, Doran said, is a new book called “Ready, Set, Go” that the system is to release and distribute to pediatrician offices, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department and other places pre-school children have time with parents.

It includes a listing of things incoming students need to know before starting in kindergarten and a representation of what kindergarten will be like.


On another matter, the board got a report from Michael Hubbard, director of performance excellence, and Becky Clark, coordinator of student information services, on the new Aspen Family Portal, which will be launched next week.

Hubbard said the online portal will be launched after this week’s nine-week academic report, with a link and instructions for parents to use it to track assignments, grades and attendance, among other things.

The new student information system is replacing PowerSchool.

In response to board member questions, Clark said a phone app version is coming soon and Hubbard said the system will move toward having all information flowing through Aspen instead of a patchwork of other systems.

Member Todd Golden said he hopes the app works well and that parents aren’t confused having to go through different online places to get student information.