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COVID-19 vaccine coming to Bristol and Kingsport for 1a1, 1a2, over age 75
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BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Regional Health Department administered COVID-19 vaccine to more than 800 people on Tuesday, most of them eligible due to being age 75 or older, according to department officials.

And the department’s telephone system was back up and running, Director Gary Mayes said.

The department will not operate a vaccination clinic Wednesday. It is expected to have more vaccine by Thursday.

New clinics will open in Bristol and Kingsport. The Bristol location will launch Thursday. The Kingsport location is scheduled to become operational Monday, Jan. 11. Details are below.

At about 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Mayes estimated more than 700 people had been served at the drive-through vaccination event at the department’s main office in Blountville. About an hour later, a post on the department’s Facebook page announced there were about 120 doses left and the line would remain open until 6 p.m. or until that supply was used up.

Mayes told the Times News he had been working again with Ballad Health System to acquire more doses of the vaccine and he was certain the health department would be receiving more vaccine from Ballad. But it wasn’t certain yet how much or exactly when.

“I felt confident we will be obtaining more vaccine by Thursday,” Mayes said. “We want to get vaccine. We spent a lot of time trying to get more vaccine. And Ballad has been very helpful to us. I’m very grateful because we want to continuously be giving vaccine. It’s life-saving. We pursue every possible avenue for getting more vaccine. Everything hinges on vaccine. As long as we keep vaccine coming, we’re in business.”

At about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the following was posted on social media by the health department:


“Vaccinations for Sullivan County will be moving to two new locations. They will be given at Bristol Motor Speedway Dragway beginning on Thursday, January 7th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. No appointments are required. Please follow the map for how to enter in your vehicle. This will be done through a drive-through system and we strongly encourage everyone to please remain in their vehicles and avoid getting out of cars to socialize with others who have received vaccine. We also request that individuals don’t get in line to hold places for others as it causes disruptions in the drive-through. There is no benefit to arriving extremely early as it causes congestion and delays.


“Vaccination will begin at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium beginning Monday, January 11th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The vaccinations will be walk-in, we are encouraging that appointments be made to help with vaccine preparation. These can be made by calling 423-279-2777.”

Vaccinations are for Phase 1a1 and Phase 1a2 individuals (see below) and for those who are 75 and older.

All the vaccine administered by the health department on Tuesday was provided by Ballad. The department had run out of its initial state-supplied 1,400 doses by midday on Monday.

Mayes said response from the public on Tuesday was very good, overall.

“I helped direct traffic, and I did get to talk to citizens coming through the line,” Mayes said. “Of course, I haven’t talked to everyone. But they’ve been very appreciative. And I think it’s absolutely wonderful we can give it to the 75-year-old and up people.”

The Times News visited the health department’s parking lot between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. and observed the traffic coming and going, directed at the lot’s entrance and nearby intersections by Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

Due to phone system failure on Monday, the health department announced late that day that the drive-through event Tuesday required no appointment.

As the public arrived Tuesday, they were asked to form a traffic line on Blountville Bypass in the lane coming from Highway 394. The end of that line stayed near that intersection most of the time the Times News was on site. Based on watching one vehicle travel from that end, to the health department entrance road (shared with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and the Blountville Justice Center), down the access road, behind and around the health department, to the vaccination tent, the wait was about 45-50 minutes.

After receiving the vaccine, in their vehicle, people were asked to park in a designated parking area to wait 20 minutes in case they had an adverse reaction. Medical staff worked out of a tent there to monitor those who got shots during the 20-minute wait time. Mayes said as of 3:30 he knew of no adverse reactions being reported.

Traffic to and from the area also included people coming to the health department for COVID-19 testing (they didn’t wait in the same line as those seeking vaccination), those coming for other services provided by the department, and, at times, sheriff’s office and justice center staff, and ambulances running calls out of the nearby Sullivan County EMS station.

Are you eligible?

In addition to anyone over age 75, the following are eligible for the vaccine during the current phase of distribution (1a2, and inclusive of those eligible in 1a1): Hospital/free-standing emergency department staff with direct patient exposure and/or exposure to potentially infectious materials; home health care staff; COVID-19 mass testing site staff; student health providers; staff and residents of long term care facilities; skilled nursing facilities, assisted living centers, homes for the aged, DIDD residential centers, group homes; first responders with direct public exposure; individuals 18 years or older who cannot live independently due to a serious chronic medical condition or intellectual or developmental disability; primary care providers and staff; outpatient specialty providers and staff working with acute patients; pharmacists and staff; patient transport; outpatient therapists; urgent visit center providers and staff; environmental services; oral health providers; behavioral health providers; outpatient laboratory staff working with COVID-19 specimens; and funeral/mortuary workers with direct decedent contact.

Dividing party, Republicans poised to challenge Biden win

WASHINGTON — Republicans mounting an unprecedented challenge to Joe Biden’s election win are setting up a congressional showdown on Wednesday that threatens to divide their party and the country for years to come.

With protestors already gathering in Washington to support President Donald Trump, the House and the Senate will convene a joint session to count the electoral votes cast in November’s election. Trump has repeatedly said there was widespread fraud, but his claims have been roundly rejected by Republican and Democratic election officials in state after state and by judges, including at the Supreme Court, further cementing Biden’s victory.

Trump sees the joint session of Congress as one of his final attempts to overturn the results, even though there is no credible path for that to happen. Echoing Trump’s baseless claims, some of his Republican allies in Congress plan to formally object to the results, focusing on six battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But a growing number of their GOP colleagues, especially in the Senate, said they would not sign on.

If an objection has support from both a House member and a senator in writing, then both chambers will vote on it. That could happen three or more times on Wednesday as Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, along with at least ten other GOP senators, have indicated they will support at least some of the House challenges. It is unclear just what the Republican senators will do, but the process could drag into the night as the two chambers will have to consider each objection individually. There could be more than 100 Republicans in the House willing to object.

The challenge to the presidential election is on a scale unseen since the aftermath of the Civil War, though the typically routine process of confirming Electoral College votes has been hit with brief objections before. In 2017, several House Democrats challenged Trump’s win, but Biden, who presided at the time as the vice president, swiftly dismissed them to assert Trump’s victory. In 2005, a challenge by a Democratic House member and a Democratic senator to George W. Bush’s victory in Ohio was quickly dismissed by both chambers.

The effort this week is expected to be much broader, but is all but certain to fail. Biden is set to be inaugurated Jan. 20.

Republicans had not yet settled on a full strategy the night before the joint session. A late-night meeting on Monday convened by Cruz reached few conclusions, according to two Republicans familiar with the situation and granted anonymity to discuss it. Cruz will object to electoral results from Arizona, another Republican said — likely to be the first objection considered, in a state Biden won.

Hawley has said he will object to the Pennsylvania results, and Loeffler may object to Georgia, where she was vying to keep her seat in a runoff election on Tuesday.

With mounting desperation, Trump declared at a campaign rally for Loeffler and David Perdue in Georgia Monday that he would “fight like hell” to hold on to the presidency and he appealed to Republican lawmakers to reverse his election loss. Perdue is seeking another six years in the Senate, but his term expired Sunday.

The days ahead will be defining for his presidency. Trump is whipping up crowds and people are gathering in Washington, where security is on alert. Lawmakers are being told to arrive early at the Capitol and some are considering sleeping overnight in their offices to ensure they can safely access the building amid the protests.

Vice President Mike Pence will be closely watched as he presides over the session. He is under growing pressure from Trump and others to tip the results in Trump’s favor. But Pence has a ceremonial role that does not give him the power to affect the outcome.

“I promise you this: On Wednesday, we’ll have our day in Congress,” Pence said while himself campaigning in Georgia ahead of Tuesday’s runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate. But he did not detail what that meant.

The high-stakes decisions on whether to ally with Trump are splitting the Republican Party. A range of Republican officials — including Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland; Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House GOP leader; and former House Speaker Paul Ryan — have criticized the GOP efforts to overturn the election. And more than a dozen Republican senators have said they will not support the effort.

“The 2020 election is over,” said a statement Sunday from a bipartisan group of 10 senators, including Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah. Several others have said they, too, will not back objections, including Republican Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate who said last month he thought any challenges would go down “like a shot dog.”

In a statement Tuesday, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said that as he reads the Constitution, “there is no constitutionally viable means for the Congress to overturn an election wherein the states have certified and sent their electors.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has tried to prevent his party from engaging in the battle, which could help define the GOP in the post-Trump era and create lingering resentments among Republican voters.

Both Hawley and Cruz are potential 2024 presidential contenders, vying for Trump’s base of supporters. Some other potential candidates, including Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, have chosen not to challenge the results.

Cruz’s coalition of 13 senators has said it will vote to reject the Electoral College tallies unless Congress launches a commission to immediately conduct an audit of the election results. Congress is unlikely to agree to that.

Facing the criticism from many in his own party, Cruz has attempted to put a finer point on his challenge. The commission remains his focus, he has said, not to undo the election results, even though that would be the practical effect of a successful objection.

“We are going to vote to object to the electors — not to set aside the election, I don’t think that would actually be the right thing to do,” Cruz said on Mark Levin’s conservative talk radio show Monday. “But rather to press for the appointment of an electoral commission.”

When the two chambers split to consider the objections and vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will preside over the House. If Pence does not preside over the Senate, it will be Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who serves as Senate pro tempore because he is the longest-serving senator in the majority.


Associated Press writers Kevin Freking in Washington, Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Steve LeBlanc in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, Alan Fram in Washington and Tali Arbel of the Technology Team contributed.

What is Region AHEAD's next move to fight COVID-19?

Region AHEAD leaders pitched on Tuesday a transition from a “wear a mask” campaign to a “get a vaccination when one is available and wear a mask” campaign to fight COVID-19.

“Wear a mask” public service announcements featuring a Ballad Health nurse on the frontlines of COVID-19 have been running on local television stations.

“Do we have any ideas on how we want to spin our next round of ads that basically say get vaccinated?” automotive executive Andy Dietrich, who last year organized a Region AHEAD recovery fund for businesses impacted by COVID-19, asked during a Zoom meeting. “Are we going to use locally well-known people to say ‘get vaccinated?’ ”

The group noted it might be counterproductive to pitch vaccination until doses are readily available, but Dietrich pointed out the public’s interest in a vaccine by saying the Sullivan County Regional Health Department got 73,000 phone calls on Monday.

“They got slammed and they are getting beat up pretty bad,” Kingsport Chamber President and CEO Miles Burdine said of the department. “They had a plan in place for three months to distribute the vaccine and all of a sud- den, the state(of Tennessee) without notification and discussion with the health departments changed the rules.”

One idea discussed by the group to engage the general public to get vaccinated is developing a webinar that could be livestreamed and shared on social media, in addition to local TV and newspaper websites.

Another task is developing spokespeople and messaging.

“We just lost a very beloved friend and (Virginia state) senator in Ben Chafin (to COVID-19),” said Bristol Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Beth Rhinehart. “It has really stunned our delegation in Southwest Virginia because Ben was just an awesome human being. To see that happen really impacts people.”

12 new COVID-19 deaths, 384 new cases reported in Northeast Tennessee

The latest COVID-19 numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health’s daily report for Tuesday:


• 99 new deaths and 5,399 new cases.

• Pandemic totals are 7,267 deaths and 617,6490 cases.

• 87% of case totals were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

• New deaths by age: 38 in the 81-plus group; 31 in the 71-80 group; 18 in the 61-70 group; six in the 51-60 group; four in the 41-50 group; and two in the 31-40 group.

Northeast Tennessee

• 12 new deaths and 384 new cases for the eight-county region.

• New deaths (and to-date totals) by county: four in Sullivan (192); four in Greene (102); three in Washington (172); and one in Carter. Four counties had no new deaths (pandemic totals held at): Hawkins (60); Unicoi (40); John- son (28); and Hancock (five).

• New cases by county: 106 in Washington; 101 in Sullivan; 55 in Greene; 44 in Hawkins; 41 in Carter: 14 in Hancock; 12 in Johnson; and 11 in Unicoi.

• Active cases by county: 1,230 in Washington; 1,134 in Sullivan; 772 in Greene; 585 in Hawkins; 555 in Carter; 172 in Unicoi; 112 in Johnson; and 52 in Hancock.

Positive rates

Statewide: 20.85% of the 13,228 new test results reported on Tuesday by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Ballad Health: 31.2% over the past seven days, for the health system’s 21-county service area, including Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Gary Mayes, director, Sullivan County Regional Health Department

COVID-19 in SWVA: LENOWISCO daily cases reach 75

Far Southwest Virginia’s daily COVID-19 cases reached 75, according to Tuesday’s state data report.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) said the LENOWISCO Health District reported 75 COVID-19-related cases and one related death for totals of 5,222 and 128 deaths in the pandemic.

Wise County saw 31 cases for totals of 2,182 and 60 deaths. Lee County had 28 cases and one death for 1,594 and 31 deaths. Scott County had 14 cases for 1,266 and 37 deaths. Norton added two cases for 180 and one death.

The VDH reported 4,377 new cases and 59 deaths statewide in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 371,913 cases and 5,191 deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Tuesday’s VDH report was 5,297,356 of 8.63 million residents, or 61.38%. For nasal swab testing only, 4,404,641 people have been tested to date, or 51.04%. In the LENOWISCO district, 33,623 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 38.88%.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Tuesday’s report decreased from 32.4% to 31.8%. The statewide seven-day positivity rate rose from 15.8% to 16.2%.

Red Onion State Prison added one case for 25 inmate cases and remained at 19 active staff/contractor cases Tuesday, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at one inmate case and 12 active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 24 inmate cases and no active staff/contractor case.

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

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. For seven-day case incidence, Wise and Lee counties schools were ranked highest-risk with Scott County Schools lower-risk and Norton City schools 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.

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.

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) gains yardage after a catch in the first half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game against Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.