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Three Hawkins schools go virtual due to spike in COVID cases

SURGOINSVILLE — Three Hawkins County schools shut down this week due to increased COVID-19 cases and quarantines, including Surgoinsville Elementary, Surgoinsville Middle and Volunteer High School.

Classes at those schools will be 100% virtual until Nov. 30.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, on Monday Hawkins County had its highest number of new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day since the pandemic began with 51. That tops the previous records of 42 on Nov. 9, and 38 on Aug. 3.

As of Tuesday, Hawkins County had 195 new cases reported over the past seven days.

Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson said he is addressing COVID outbreaks on a school-by-school basis.

Last month, Cherokee High School was closed the week before fall break, giving the campus two weeks off to “reset” after COVID-19 numbers began to spike there.

Surgoinsville Elementary went entirely virtual on Tuesday and is being joined by Surgoinsville Middle and Volunteer High School on Wednesday.

“Surgoinsville Elementary had over half its staff out,” Hixson told the Times News on Tuesday. “VHS has been hit hard with staff and student quarantines. We are now counting up to 200 students out due to quarantine or non COVID illness. All students and staff will be moved to virtual instruction, ensuring the continuation of instruction.”

Since August, 37 Hawkins County teachers across the system have tested positive, as well as 54 students.

Also since August, another 128 faculty and staff were identified as close contacts and quarantined, as well as 619 students.

Hixson attributed the three new school shutdowns to staff shortages and a desire to slow the spread of the virus at the sites.

“If after we quarantine, cases continue to grow, we will shut the sites down, allowing for distancing and cleaning protocols,” he added.

The independent K-8 Rogersville City School had been 100% virtual for the past two weeks due to a spike in COVID cases before returning to its “mostly virtual” schedule on Monday.

That schedule entails students in grades K-2 being 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 have the freedom to bring in students who need extra help.

All RCS students are in virtual classrooms on Fridays.

Hawkins County director of schools Matt Hixson

St. Paul's Christmas Bazaar moves online

KINGSPORT — The COVID-19 pandemic has affected a number of local events, and the annual Christmas Bazaar at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is no exception.

The event, typically held in-person one day a year, has transformed into a two-week online shop this year because of the pandemic. But even though the bazaar has moved online, there’s no shortage of quality, handcrafted items.

Paige Kramer, “crafter-in-chief” and chairperson of the bazaar, said all the in-person aspects of the event, such as the lunch, have been canceled, but shoppers can still purchase many of the same types of items as in previous years, all from the comfort of their homes.

“We’ve just kind of tried to focus on what we can do and have something that is familiar, kind of in a different format,” Kramer said. “We do have a bake sale that’s been doing great, we still have our handmade items, our hand-knit stuff, our creative things that people make, and it’s just the in-person stuff that we’ve had to do differently.”

When and how can you shop?

The online store at www.stpaulsbazaar.com is open through Friday, Nov. 20, at midnight. Shoppers can purchase and pay online, then either choose curbside pickup or have their order shipped. Delivery is also an option for Kingsport residents who make a purchase of $100 or more.

Curbside pickup will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21, at the church, located at 161 E. Ravine Road. Volunteers, wearing masks, will bring deliveries to buyers’ vehicles, keeping the process as contactless as possible.

What’s for sale?

Hundreds of holiday and non-holiday themed items are available online, including artisan crafts; jewelry; home and holiday décor; knitted, needlecraft and woodworking items; gifts for kids, family and pets; and hostess and teacher gifts.

The jewelry and bake sale items remain bestsellers, even online. The bazaar’s lead “resident artist,” Alice Pitchie, is a master of jewelry design and vintage style jewelry art, while the bake sale includes jams, jellies, pies, cakes, sweet breads and cookies. Frozen, homemade soups and ready-made soups in jars are also available.

Kramer said church volunteers have had to change the way they make their items this year. In-person workshops used to take place at the church every week after Labor Day, but this year, crafters received take-home kits to work on at home.

“We can’t be together, which is the part we love most, but we’re able to continue working,” Kramer said. “We’ve called it craft therapy.”

How will the proceeds be used?

Proceeds will benefit the shared church ministries of Kingsport Community Ministry Center (KCMC) and Laundry Love, along with St. Paul’s Day School and Kindergarten.

“They’re shopping with a purpose,” said Anne McGinty, bazaar volunteer. “That’s true of every year, because our proceeds do benefit outreach ministries.”

For more information or to make a purchase, visit www.stpaulsbazaar.com.

NET daily case levels ease, but five more deaths reported

Northeast Tennessee saw a drop in COVID-19 daily case levels Tuesday as the region’s pandemic total reached just over 19,250.

Five new COVID-19 deaths were reported in the region, bringing the region’s total to 346. One case each was reported in Washington, Johnson, Carter, Greene and Unicoi counties.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 72 additional deaths and 1,841 new cases brought Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 3,995 deaths (3,705 confirmed as COVID-19 and 290 probable) and 320,729 cases (298,288 confirmed as COVID-19 and 22,441 probable). Of the pandemic total statewide cases, 276,497 (86%) were listed as “inactive/recovered” or no change since Monday’s report

The new case numbers were based on 14,098 new test results statewide, since the day before, with a positive rate of 13.22%.

Ballad Health’s Tuesday daily COVID-19 scorecard (www.balladhealth.org/medical-services/infectious-disease) reported a seven-day test positivity rate of 19.2% for the system’s 21-county coverage area. According to Ballad’s Tuesday data, the region surpassed Monday’s single-day case count of 650 reported new cases with 755 cases.

Other numbers from Ballad on Tuesday included:

— 55 COVID-19 deaths in the system’s service area over the last seven days;

— 243 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, 46 in intensive care, 28 on ventilators;

— 31,838 total cases and 566 total deaths in the system’s service area since March 1.

All of Northeast Tennessee’s eight counties had new cases reported Tuesday, according to the TDH, for a total of 111 new cases. Cases by county: 12 in Sullivan; 48 in Washington; 19 in Greene; 15 in Carter; eight in Hawkins; six in Unicoi; two in Johnson; and one in Hancock.

Total cases in Northeast Tennessee reached 19,253 Tuesday. By county: 5,394 in Sullivan; 5,125 in Washington; 2,591 in Greene; 2,309 in Carter; 1,670 in Hawkins; 1,337 in Johnson; 693 in Unicoi; and 134 in Hancock.

Active cases in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 723 in Sullivan; 671 in Washington; 334 in Carter; 349 in Greene; 237 in Hawkins; 121 in Unicoi; 69 in Johnson; and seven in Hancock.

With 72 deaths reported statewide on the TDH COVID-19 dashboard, cases were listed in the age group breakdown as: 32 in the 81-plus group; 19 in the 71-80 group; 18 in the 61-70 group; two in the 51-60 group; and one in the 31-40 group.

Lee care facility dealing with COVID-19 outbreak as SW Va. adds four deaths, 43 cases

Far Southwest Virginia’s daily COVID-19 case rate rose again, according to Tuesday’s state data report, while a long-term care facility in Lee County is still grappling with an outbreak that has continued since July.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 2,125 new cases and 29 additional deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 206,762 cases and 3,835 deaths.

The LENOWISCO Health District saw 43 cases and four deaths for totals of 2,505 and 40 deaths during the pandemic. Wise County had 20 cases and three deaths for totals of 1,048 and 17 deaths. Scott County tallied 12 cases and one death for 639 and 12 deaths. Lee County added 10 cases for 754 and 11 deaths, while Norton added a case for 64 and no deaths.

According to VDH’s website for outbreaks in nursing homes, assisted living and multi-care facilities, only two facilities have been classified as facing outbreaks during the pandemic.

Lee Health and Rehabilitation in Pennington Gap was classified as of Monday as having an outbreak in progress since July 4, with 129 cases and fewer than five deaths reported since that date. Nova Health and Rehabilitation in Weber City was reported as having an outbreak pending closure that started on Sept 11. Fewer than five cases and fewer than five deaths have been reported during that outbreak.

According to the VDH, an outbreak is considered in progress until 28 days — two COVID-19 incubation periods — have passed without the onset of new cases. When 28 days have passed without a new documented case, the outbreak is considered pending closure but has not yet been confirmed closed in the Virginia Outbreak Surveillance System.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Tuesday’s VDH report was 3,208,319 of 8.63 million residents, or 37.18%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,963,157 people have been tested to date, or 34.34%. In the LENOWISCO district, 22,088 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 25.54%.

testing rates by locality

• Lee County, 6,915 of 23,423, or 29.52%

• Norton, 2,091 of 3,981, or 52.52%

• Wise County, 8,302 of 37,383, or 22.21%

• Scott County, 4,780 of 21,566, or 22.16%

Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and no active staff/contractor cases, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases but added one case for one active staff case.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Tuesday’s report rose from 15% to 15.9%. The statewide positivity rate rose from 7.3% to 7.4%

According to Tuesday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, cases in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as rising after a 57-day increase in cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 38-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. Scott County Schools were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Wise County schools were ranked higher-risk, and Lee County and Norton City schools 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 a user through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.

As part of the city’s land swap with Domtar, a new and expanded Scott Adams Memorial Skate Park will go to Brickyard Park, and Domtar will contribute $500,000 toward its construction.