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Tennessee trying to 'ramp up' COVID-19 vaccination

Tennessee’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout was the centerpiece of a Zoom discussion on Monday between Tennessee Press Association (TPA) members, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.

“I think this is the first time we’ve had any kind of mass vaccination in our state,” Sexton, R-Crossville, said. “We are trying to ramp that up. It does cause a little bit of a problem. I would say the other problem we have as a state is we don’t know until 48 to 72 hours how many vaccinations we’re going to get for that period of time. Sometimes the department (of health) has not been able to get the amount they were promised, either. I think there has been hiccups all along the way from federal to state trying to get the people to shots.”

The legislature, Sexton noted, will continue to work with Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey to make sure they get what they need to advance the vaccine rollout.

Walmart, Sam’s Club, CVS and Walgreen’s pharmacies have begun administering COVID-19 vaccines by appointment and subject to vaccine availability.

“You have about 60 independent pharmacies across the state who can give it right now and hopefully that will increase,” Sexton pointed out. “The bigger problem is it’s not just one shot, it’s two shots. The second shot does add some logistics problems.”

The Tennessee Education Association has expressed concern about teachers not getting vaccinated and spending their own money to purchase disinfectants and protective masks.

Still, McNally stressed that despite COVID-19’s negative impact on the economy, state lawmakers won’t have to raise taxes on businesses.

“Overall, the state’s revenues are in good shape,” McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said.

Sexton told TPA members that lawmakers will continue to evaluate bills about government transparency.

“I appreciate the role the press association does for our state making sure that we keep Tennesseans informed whether it’s local, state or federal (issues) and keeping the community involved as well,” Sexton said.

Need a ride to get a COVID shot? KATS can help

KINGSPORT — The Kingsport Area Transit Service is now accepting appointments for residents who need transportation to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

To make a reservation, you’ll need to call KATS at (423) 224-2613 (option #4) and be prepared with the following information:

• Name, birthday, phone number

• Pickup address (a site check will be performed prior to appointment)

• Vaccine appointment address

• Requested appointment and return times

• If you’re traveling with another person or using any mobility aids

• Emergency contact information

Trip availability will be determined upon scheduling, and trip fares depend on your zone location and begin at $6 for a round trip. Check with the KATS dispatcher prior to your trip for exact fare.

“KATS is happy to provide transportation to the community for vaccination purposes,” said Transit Director Chris Campbell. “Ensuring community members can safely reach their COVID-19 vaccination appointments is part of our ongoing effort to protect the health of the community.”

All COVID-19 safety protocols will be enforced during these trips, Campbell said.

You must wear face coverings at all times while on board and shared trips will be avoided if possible.

Campbell said all KATS vehicles are cleaned daily with disinfectant, and an electrostatic product is used to ensure surfaces are sanitized.

For more information, visit kingsporttransit.org or call (423) 224-2613.

Cheryl Weston, a nurse at Roosevelt Elementary School in Kingsport City Schools, receives the COVID-19 vaccine in this file photo from mid-December. She was the first nurse in the public school system to receive the vaccine.

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Daily COVID-19 deaths trending down as region nears 1,000-mark

Since the beginning of the month, the average number of new coronavirus-related deaths reported per day has slowed as Northeast Tennessee has neared the 1,000-mark for total deaths.

Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 31, the region averaged a record 7.48 COVID-19-related deaths per day, a slight uptick from December’s 7.35 average daily death toll. Through Feb. 15, the region has seen five reported deaths per day — its lowest rate since October. Reported deaths have particularly slowed in the past week to an average of 4.1 deaths per day.

The slowdown may be due to the number of people in high-risk categories who’ve been fully vaccinated in the region, with 16.15% of people in Washington County having received at least one dose — the highest rate in the state.

The rate of vaccination may also be at least partially responsible for the region’s decline in new cases, the rate of which has fallen dramatically since late- December and early January.

Over the past seven days, the region is averaging 137.5 new cases per day after reporting 75 new infections on Monday.

There have been 960 total deaths reported in the region, with one new fatality reported on Monday.

Ballad’s critical care patients trend down

Ballad Health reported a near four-month low in the number of coronavirus patients on ventilators on Monday, while the number of virus patients in intensive care tied a low reached on Feb. 3.

As of Monday, Ballad had 97 people people hospitalized with the virus, a decline of 10 from Friday. It’s only the second time inpatients have fallen below 100 since Oct. 15.

There were 10 (-6) people on ventilators, the fewest reported since Oct. 23. ICU patients fell to 18, tying for the fewest reported since Oct. 17.

While those critical indicators declined over the weekend, they have remained relatively stable since the beginning of February. Hospitalizations have hovered near 100 since Feb. 4, while ICU patients have held between 18 and 23 since Jan. 30. Ventilator patients have bounced between 10 and 18 since Jan. 28.

NET by the numbers

Cases: 48,836 (+75). Last seven days: 916

New cases by county: Carter 5, Greene 9, Hancock 1, Hawkins 1, Johnson 1, Sullivan 42, Unicoi 6, Washington 10.

Active cases: 1,185 (-50)

New tests: 446 (11.68% positivity rate)

New hospitalizations: 1. Last seven days: 29

Deaths: 960 (+1). Last seven days: 29

COVID-19 in SWVA: LENOWISCO district daily cases below 10 for second day

The LENOWISCO Health District’s daily case level stayed below 10 for a second day, according to Monday’s state data report, while daily vaccinations dropped to 12.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) said the LENOWISCO district reported six COVID-19-related cases and no new deaths for totals of 6,797 and 172 deaths during the pandemic.

Scott County saw three cases for 2,241 and 46 deaths. Wise County had two cases for 2,771 and 84 deaths.

Lee County saw one case for 2,241 and 38 deaths. Norton remained at 236 cases and four deaths.

In the LENOWISCO district, 15,031 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given since they became available in Virginia — 12 additional doses since Sunday’s report and 17.38% of the district population.

Allocation of doses to individual health districts was not available on VDH’s vaccine information website on Monday. The last released total of vaccines for the LENOWISCO district was 22,225.

The number of people in the district receiving the recommended two doses is 3,622 — 4.19% of the district’s 86,471 population.

Statewide, 1,367,319 doses have been given and 337,968 people have received two doses — 3.92% of the 8.63 million state population fully vaccinated.

The VDH reported 1,539 new cases and four new deaths statewide in the prior 24 hours, for pandemic totals of 551,538 and 7,016 deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Monday’s VDH report was 7,070,207 of 8.63 million residents, or 81.93%. For nasal swab testing only, 5,622,345 people have been tested to date, or 65.15%. In the LENOWISCO district, 39,608 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 45.8%.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Monday’s report rose from 8.8% to 9.3%. The statewide seven-day positivity rate dropped from 9.6% to 9.3%.

Red Onion State Prison remained at 61 inmate cases and two staff/contractor cases on Monday, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at 20 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 24 inmate cases and no active staff/contractor cases.

According to Monday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, daily case incidence in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — was ranked as decreasing after an overall 42-day drop in daily case rates. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results was classed as declining based on an overall 45-day decrease in that measure.

In the LENOWISCO district, Lee, Wise and Scott counties’ school systems were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district, while Norton City Schools was ranked lowest risk. For seven-day case incidence, Lee, Wise and Scott counties’ school systems were ranked lowest- risk. Norton City schools were ranked highest-risk.


More information about COVID-19 vaccination can be found online at www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine. For details on COVID-19 vaccination in the LENOWISCO District, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lenowisco/.

Contact numbers for local health districts are:

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

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

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

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.

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.

Vehicles drive on snow and sleet covered roads Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Spring, Texas. A winter storm dropping snow and ice sent temperatures plunging across the southern Plains, prompting a power emergency in Texas a day after conditions canceled flights and impacted traffic across large swaths of the U.S.