KINGSPORT — Though the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on much of the light of the Christmas season, “Operation Christmas Child” is still bringing joy to underprivileged children in the form of a simple shoebox.
The program, run by the international relief ministry Samaritan’s Purse, delivers millions of shoeboxes to children 15 and under living in third-world countries. “Many of these children,” said volunteer community relations team member Shirley Walters, “have never received a Christmas gift before.”
“And they keep those items for years to come,” said Mary Crow, logistics coordinator.
Though shoeboxes are usually packed full of toys, games and school supplies, the true goal of Operation Christmas Child is to deliver the good news of Jesus Christ to as many of the 1.9 billion children under 15 around the world as possible. Last year alone the program delivered 10.5 million shoeboxes. “This year,” said area coordinator Melissa Pitts, “Our goal is to deliver 11 million.”
Kingsport’s Operation Christmas Child is part of a larger Tri-Cities affiliate encompassing eight counties and 10 drop-off locations, which included First Baptist Church and the area headquarters at Grace Fellowship Church.
This affiliate is incredibly active, no doubt a result of the hard work of the community to support this program.
“Last year, the Tri-Cities collected 41,236 boxes,” Pitts said.
At the Grace Fellowship location, boxes quickly piled up over the past two weeks.
Every week, a team of nearly 20 seasonal volunteers worked at this location to collect, pack and ship out the shoeboxes.
In Kingsport, “We have about 30 volunteers on our year-round team,” said Pitts. “We have all age volunteers that participate. Preschoolers, student groups, college groups, the YMCA, scouting organizations.”
In an effort to weather the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kingsport’s Operation Christmas Child had to make some changes to its usual operations. This year, those who wished to pack shoeboxes had the option to choose between a regular drop-off and a curbside pickup option.
Volunteers were invited to bring their shoeboxes to Grace Fellowship Church or a number of other locations to have their shoeboxes collected directly from their vehicle, completely contact-free.
You were also able to pack and pay for a customized box entirely online, which included a personalized note and photograph inside.
“We have heard so many stories from people who have received shoeboxes that they received exactly what they needed,” said Crow. “Lots of times when we pack a shoebox we’re not sure what child is going to receive that box. But on the receiving end, they’ve told us so many times that they have been asking for a particular item, and that when that shoebox was handed to them, that item was in there. And it was so precious.”
This holiday season, especially with the pandemic crippling hospitals and economies alike, Samaritan’s Purse asks members of the community to consider giving back. “Now more than ever,” reads the Samaritan’s Purse website, “children need hope.”
GRAY — President-elect Joe Biden deserves an orderly transition to his presidency, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told reporters on Monday.
“I think the transition should have started several weeks ago,” Alexander, a Republican, said during a stop at the Gray Fossil Site. “Here’s where I think we are: The election is rapidly coming to a formal end. Courts are resolving disputes. States are recounting votes. Most states will certify their votes by Dec. 8. Since it is increasingly apparent that Joe Biden is the president-elect, I would hope President Trump would take pride in his considerable accomplishments, put the country first and help begin an orderly and peaceful transition for the new administration.”
Alexander noted a COVID-19 vaccine is nearly at hand.
“We don’t want to miss an hour or day in getting tens of thousands of vaccines to Tennesseans, which should be arriving in December,” he said. “For those of us in public life, people remember the last thing you do, I hope that want they remember about President Trump if Joe Biden is the winner, that he put the country first and took pride in his accomplishments and helped the incoming administration succeed.”
Tennessee, Alexander said, should get a pro-rata share of the initial 40 million doses of the vaccine.
Alexander is the only Tennessean ever popularly elected both governor and United States Senator.
In his 1978 campaign for governor, he wore a red plaid shirt while walking 1,022 miles across Tennessee and spending the night with 73 families. On Jan. 17, 1979, Democrat legislative leaders swore him in three days early because of cash-for- clemency scandals surrounding then-Gov. Ray Blanton, a Democrat.
“That went about as well as it possibly could,” Alexander reflected. “This is the kind of thing where 1,000 things can go wrong and 999 will but because of the cooperation of (Democrat) Speaker (Ned) McWherter and (Democrat Lt.) Gov. (John) Wilder ... that worked out well. ... It was a bipartisan boot camp. We didn’t know each other that well, but we were forced to work together and we trusted each other and we did the right thing.”
As governor for eight years in the 1980s, Alexander brought Saturn, Nissan and the auto industry to Tennessee. He also made Tennessee the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well and enacted three new road programs with zero debt to give Tennessee what truckers in 1991 called the “best four-lane highway system in the country.” He left the state with a AAA bond rating, near zero debt, fewer state employees and the third-lowest per capita taxes.
In 2012, after being elected three times chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, he stepped aside from leadership as he said then “to work on the issues that I care about the most and that are important to the country.”
That led to: the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, fixing No Child Left Behind; the Great Americans Outdoors Act in 2020; the Music Modernization Act in 2018 to help songwriters get paid fairly for their work, which was the first copyright law change in a generation; and the Opioid Crisis Response Act in 2018.
In 2019, he simplified the federal aid application forms that 20 million families struggle to fill out every year to go to college.
Alexander also served as president of the University of Tennessee (1988-1991) and U.S. Secretary of Education for President George H.W. Bush (1991-1993).
Alexander also addressed these questions:
What’s next for you?
“I’m going home to Maryville. We sold the house in Nashville. I’m going to turn the page in the next chapter and we’ll see what the next chapter brings but I have no idea what that will be.”
What’s going to happen to your red plaid shirt (which he wore while campaigning)?
“I’ve still got it. I’ll wear it when it’s cold.”
Have you had talks with (Republican) Bill Hagerty (who will succeed Alexander next year)? How do you think he’ll do?
“I have talked with him. I think he’ll do well. I think Bill Hagerty will be an exceptional United States senator. I think he’ll be especially strong in national security and economic issues. His work as ambassador to Japan helps him understand China and its role with the United States.”
How would you describe your relationship with President Trump?
“Good. I try to treat the office with respect when I disagree with him which I do sometimes. I don’t criticize him personally. I just cast my vote. I’m sure he doesn’t like it when I vote ‘no’ but we have a cordial relationship.”
KINGSPORT — Eastman confirmed on Monday ongoing job reductions in its Kingsport and global operations.
“I just want to remind you that this is not ‘new’ news,” Eastman spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said. “It’s what we announced back in August, and was reported in some local media outlets. We informed employees in August that as part of our transformation efforts, the company is taking actions to enable us to be more agile and efficient, and to improve our overall competitiveness. As previously mentioned, one part of those actions is a reduction in our global workforce, which includes a voluntary separation program in the U.S., followed by a global involuntary separation program. We expect to complete these programs by the end of the year. Outside the U.S., timing may vary depending on country laws and regulations. We believe the scale of this program is very modest in comparison to similar announcements made recently by other large companies, and expect that the workforce reduction will impact less than 3% of the total global workforce.”
Eastman Board Chair and CEO Mark Costa, in the company’s third quarter report, noted Eastman was on on track to deliver approximately $150 million of cost savings, net of inflation, for full year 2020, of which approximately $40 million was expected in the fourth quarter.
Founded in 1920, Eastman is a global specialty materials company that produces a broad range of products found in items people use every day.
With the purpose of enhancing the quality of life in a material way, Eastman works with customers to deliver innovative products and solutions while maintaining a commitment to safety and sustainability.
The company’s innovation-driven growth model takes advantage of world-class technology platforms, deep customer engagement, and differentiated application development to grow its leading positions in attractive end markets such as transportation, building and construction, and consumables.
As a globally inclusive and diverse company, Eastman employs approximately 14,500 people around the world and serves customers in more than 100 countries.
The company had 2019 revenues of approximately $9.3 billion and is headquartered in Kingsport.
For more information, visit www.eastman.com.
Northeast Tennessee’s daily COVID-19 case level climbed over 360 on Monday as Tennessee saw daily cases surpass 4,000.
Nine new COVID-19 deaths were reported in the region, bringing the region’s total to 396. Two deaths each were reported in Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties and three in Greene County.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health’s COVID-19 website (https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html), 35 new deaths and 4,074 new cases brought Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 4,301 deaths (3,957 confirmed as COVID-19 and 344 probable) and 344,550 cases (318,428 confirmed as COVID-19 and 26,122 probable). Of the pandemic total statewide cases, 296,592 (86%) were listed as “inactive/recovered.”
The new case numbers included 28,457 new test results statewide, since the day before, with a positive rate of 14.06% — a 1.52 percentage point rise from Sunday.
Ballad Health’s Monday daily COVID-19 scorecard (www.balladhealth.org/medical-services/infectious-disease) reported a seven-day test positivity rate of 18.4% for the system’s 21-county coverage area.
Other numbers from Ballad on Monday included:
• 88 COVID-19 deaths in the system’s service area over the past seven days
• 217 COVID-19 patients hospitalized; 46 in intensive care; 30 on ventilators;
• 34,638 total cases and 651 total deaths in the system’s service area since March 1.
All of Northeast Tennessee’s eight counties had new cases reported on Monday, according to TDH, for a total of 364 new cases. Cases by county: 147 in Sullivan; 94 in Washington; 41 in Greene; 25 in Carter; 32 in Hawkins; 14 in Unicoi; nine in Johnson; and two in Hancock.
Total cases in Northeast Tennessee reached 21,204 on Monday. By county: 6,093 in Sullivan; 5,596 in Washington; 2,859 in Greene; 2,534 in Carter; 1,814 in Hawkins; 1,376 in Johnson; 785 in Unicoi; and 147 in Hancock.
Active cases in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 951 in Sullivan; 742 in Washington; 356 in Carter; 390 in Greene; 243 in Hawkins; 139 in Unicoi; 63 in Johnson; and 17 in Hancock.
With 35 deaths reported statewide on the TDH COVID-19 dashboard, cases were listed in the age group breakdown as: 11 in the 81+ group;12 in the 71-80 group; five in the 61-70 group; four in the 51-60 group; one in the 41-50 group; one in the 31-40 group; and one in the 21-30 age group.
A 75-case spike in far Southwest Virginia’s case levels stemmed from a weekend maintenance shutdown of the state’s COVID-19 information website, according to Monday’s state data report.
The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) said the LENOWISCO Health District tallied 75 cases and three deaths for totals of 2,760 and 60 deaths during the pandemic.
Scott County had 31 cases for totals of 723 and 12 deaths. Lee County saw 26 cases for 828 and 12 deaths.
Wise County 17 cases and three deaths for 1,138 and 36 deaths. Norton saw one case for 71 and no deaths.
The VDH reported that the state had 3,242 new cases and four deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 221,038 cases and 3,942 deaths.
The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Monday’s VDH report was 3,592,164 of 8.63 million residents, or 41.62%. For nasal swab testing only, 3,161,059 people have been tested to date, or 36.63%. In the LENOWISCO district, 23,190 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 26.82%.
Testing rates by locality
• Lee County, 7,323 of 23,423, or 31.26%
• Norton, 2,158 of 3,981, or 54.21%
• Wise County, 8,731 of 37,383, or 23.36%
• Scott County, 4,978 of 21,566, or 23.08%
In Monday’s update of the VDH dashboard for multi-care facility COVID-19 outbreaks (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/health-professionals/virginia-long-term-care-task-force/8807-2/), Ridgecrest Manor in Duffield and Heritage Hall in Big Stone Gap appeared on the public state list for the first time on Monday. Ridgecrest’s outbreak-in-progress was listed as being reported Oct. 21, with 104 total cases and fewer than five deaths on Monday’s report — an increase of two cases since state officials confirmed the outbreak on Nov. 18.
Heritage Hall Big Stone Gap’s outbreak — reported on Oct. 31, according to VDH — was listed as having 211 cases and 27 deaths in Monday’s report, or an increase of 21 cases and six deaths since VDH’s confirmation on Nov. 18.
Chestnut Grove Assisted Living Facility in Dryden, in Lee County, appeared on Monday’s outbreak list, with that outbreak reported on Nov. 16 and totaling 51 cases and no deaths.
Nova Health and Rehab Center in Weber City had its outbreak listed as pending closure in Monday’s report, with fewer than five cases or deaths since it was first reported on Sept. 11.
Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and added one case for two active staff/contractor cases.
Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases and a single active staff/contractor case.
The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Monday’s report dropped from 19.7% to 19.5%. The statewide positivity rate rose from 7.1% to 7.2%.
According to Monday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, daily case incidences in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as rising after a 63-day increase in daily cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results was classed as fluctuating based on a seven-day decrease 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.
Lee County Schools were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Scott County Schools were ranked lower-risk, while Wise County 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 to schedule 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.