Times News Blog: Latest on local impact of COVID-19

If your church, business or organization has community announcements related to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, please email us at [email protected].

The Times News staff is working to provide the latest updates on schedule changes, local decisions and news related to COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. If your church, business or agency has community announcements related to coronavirus concerns and prevention, please email us at [email protected].

Saturday, May 16

Schedule changes

🔹 The Kingsport Farmers Market will open Saturday, May 23, according to a Facebook post from market manager Jim LaFollette. “The market will look different than what you are use to. There will be signs telling which way to go thru the market. We will observe the social distance rule. We will be there for you so please be patient. Thank you in advance.”

🔹 The Town of Unicoi’s annual Freedom Fest, scheduled for July 4, has been canceled to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The decision comes after Johnson City announced the cancelation of its Fourth of July celebration a few weeks ago and the CDC continues to encourage social distancing. While larger events like Freedom Fest won’t be held this year, Shelton confirmed that the Unicoi Farmers Market & Community Yard Sale will begin June 2 as previously scheduled.

Read more

Proposed MLB rules: shower at home, don't spit

Strength coach working from afar to keep Bucs in shape

COVID-19 cases hold steady throughout region

MECC graduates more than 570 virtually

Eastman Foundation giving $1 million in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Virginia takes step forward into reopening businesses

Friday, May 15

Schedule changes

🔹 Natural area preserves differ from Virginia State Parks and have very small parking areas for 10 or so vehicles. Because of overuse, the Channels Natural Area Preserve in Washington and Russell counties is now closed to public access through at least June 10. Anyone planning to visit a natural area preserve should: Check www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/nap-covid-19 before leaving home for the latest information on closures; have alternate plans in case the small parking area is full upon arrival. (Parking areas hold only 10 or so vehicles. If it's full, visitors should wait for a space to open, act on their alternate plan or come back later. Do not park elsewhere); stay on marked trails; leave no trace; and practice social distancing. No groups greater than 10 are permitted. If you're sick, stay home. All preserves are routinely monitored by staff and local law enforcement.

🔹 The second annual Bristol Burnout presented by Mycroft Signs has been postponed to Saturday, Aug. 29, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was announced today by officials from the Bristol Motor Speedway Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities. The high-intensity workout competition showcases area athletes who are competing to support more than 100 child-based agencies throughout the Appalachian Highlands region. Fitness enthusiasts can form two-person teams for the chance at victory. Numerous CrossFit facilities from the region are also joining in and will bring multiple teams. Crossfit superstar and three-time Crossfit Games champ Matt Hewett, who made his Bristol Burnout debut last year, is expected to return to the competition. The event will be held at the BMS South Building, located just inside the South Entrance of the Speedway off Volunteer Pkwy / Hwy 11E. To learn more, visit SCC Bristol Burnout.

🔹 The Kingsport Parks and Recreation department has made the difficult decision to cancel its Summer Program for 2020. While the decision is one out of caution for the safety and health of summer program participants, staff have come up with unique and fun ways kids can still get involved and have fun this summer. For more information, visit www.kingsportparksandrecreation.org.

🔹 Haynesfield Aquatic Center will not open this summer, and all organized activities that had been planned at the Bristol, Tennessee, pool have been canceled for the 2020 season, Director of Parks & Recreation Terry Napier announced Friday. The City also has canceled a series of nature camps that were scheduled at Steele Creek Park and a summer youth program sponsored by the Bristol, Tennessee Police Department. Napier said the public will not be able to rent paddle boats at Steele Creek Park or ride the Steele Creek Express, a small train that runs through park, this summer either because the City did not hire seasonal staff to operate these attractions. No decision has yet been made regarding the opening of Steele Creek’s Splash Pad or picnic shelter rentals, which are currently on hold.

🔹 The Birthplace of Country Music has canceled this year’s Pick Along Summer Camps. “We are so proud of our kids and will miss them more than anything this summer!” a statement reads. “We encourage parents to keep their children’s curiosity of music alive in the meantime with free YouTube music lessons. Post videos of home performances on social media and tag the Museum (Instagram: @birthplaceofcountrymusicmuseum | Facebook: Birthplace of Country Music Museum) so we can see their progress!”

News updates

🔹 Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group announced today it will lift capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail to instead focus on social distancing best practices effective May 22 and issue guidelines to facilitate the safe reopening of larger, non-contact attractions on or after May 22. New Tennessee Pledge guidelines will be released early next week. Six counties – Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan – may continue to follow individual, county-specific reopening plans created in consultation with state and local health departments.

🔹 Patrons of Sullivan County Public Library will be able to return any checked out items to the drop boxes at each location beginning Monday, May 18th at 9 a.m. Patrons may return books in the blue drop boxes and audio/video materials in the tall silver drop boxes in front of each location. Contact your local branch if you have items to return that will not fit in the drop box slots. Return of Wi-Fi hotspots will be by appointment only. No donations are being accepted at this time. Patrons with holds on items they no longer want to check out should call their local branch location to cancel the holds so other patrons can check the items out. Library buildings are not open to the public at this time, and there is currently no curbside pickup. Call your local branch library with any questions.

🔹 East Tennessee State University’s Reece Museum, Mary B. Martin School of the Arts and community supporters are building a special collection that will be housed in the Reece Museum’s Permanent Collection titled “Local Art in the Age of the 2020 Global Pandemic.” The purpose of the joint initiative is to purchase artwork created in 2019 or 2020 from artists who live and/or work in Johnson City or Washington County. Artists must be at least 18 years of age and live and/or work in Johnson City or Washington County, Tennessee. There is no entry fee to participate, and each artist may submit only one entry. The deadline for submissions is June 19. All artists whose work is selected will receive an equal dollar amount of at least $200 based on the number of artists juried into the “Local Art in the Age of the 2020 Global Pandemic” special collection. To obtain guidelines for submission or artwork, to make a financial gift to support this effort, or for more information, visit the Reece Museum website at https://www.etsu.edu/cas/cass/reece/pandemic.php.

🔹 Recognizing the needs of the people and the communities where we operate, Eastman Foundation has committed $1 million toward supporting global response organizations in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Eastman Foundation will provide funding to organizations for food, shelter, medical personal protective equipment for frontline workers and community support.

🔹 Across the Appalachian Highlands, resilient workers, makers and volunteers are dedicated to supplying the personal protective equipment health care professionals need to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. One such example is a regional effort underway to manufacture face shields. Production of several types of the emergency face shields, including one designed by faculty at East Tennessee State University, began in March when Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission issued a statewide request for personal protective equipment. Dr. Keith Johnson and Bill Hemphill from ETSU’s Department of Engineering, Engineering Technology and Surveying immediately went to work developing a prototype that would be comfortable to wear. They used copolyester previously donated by Eastman as well as other materials commonly available at hardware stores. Meanwhile, STREAMWORKS, an educational program in Kingsport, began producing 3D printed headbands for face shields in its STEM Gym. Both groups had almost everything they needed to begin manufacturing, with the exception of one very important piece – the clear copolyester for the actual face shield. Eastman Polymer Technology Division teams quickly turned out rolls of PETG, a material typically used for medical devices. Nearly 5,000 emergency face shields designed by ETSU have been donated thus far. The university has worked alongside the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Northeast Tennessee Healthcare Preparedness Coalition, ETSU Health and Ballad Health to deliver the face shields as well as donations of supplies and personal protection equipment to health care facilities across the region and state.

🔹 As Tennessee gradually reopens with new safety guidelines for businesses, the state is conducting some of the best levels of COVID-19 testing in the nation, according to a new Harvard Global Health Institute study. Harvard notes that Tennessee is conducting thousands of tests per day to better track and contain the spread of COVID-19 statewide.

🔹 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the extension of three nationwide waivers, giving child nutrition program operators the flexibility they need to continue to feed children while promoting social distancing and keeping families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, schools and local program sponsors have used flexibilities provided by USDA to find creative ways to feed kids, such as setting up drive-thru pick-ups and delivering meals on bus routes. With the extension of these waivers, these innovative models can continue, without interruption, while state and local social distancing orders remain in place.

Read more

Only one new COVID-19 case in region

SoCon cost-savings plan: Fewer teams in conference tourneys

Sullivan County Sheriff's Office to honor fallen officers in virtual service

Flexibility key for football’s return, says ETSU’s Carter

Kingsport Aquatic Center reopens with conditions on Monday

Wise County schools, county administration look at pandemic budget plans

Thursday, May 14

Schedule changes

🔹 The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture’s Summer Celebration Lawn and Garden Show has been postponed until October 1, 2020. The annual gardening event, which takes place at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Jackson, was previously scheduled for July 9, 2020, but will be delayed due to health and safety concerns for employees and visitors. Due to limited personnel available in October, outdoor garden talks, exhibitor booths and the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic will not be included on the program.

News updates

🔹 Piccadilly Kingsport notified customers Thursday afternoon that it will not reopen. The email reads: “We are so grateful to be able to be part of the Kingsport - Tri-Cities community over the years. Unfortunately, we will not be reopening this location. We love you Kingsport. Please consider visiting our other locations across the South in your future travels.”

🔹 Girl Scouts of the Southern Appalachians (GSCSA) announced it will be selling Girl Scout Cookies by way of a drive-through cookie booth from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, June 6, at the Johnson City Girl Scout Service Center, 1100 Woodland Avenue. In the interest of youth safety, the booth will be manned only by adult volunteers.

🔹 This year, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Fallen Officer Memorial Service is being conducted virtually. This is due to the coronavirus pandemic and the precautionary measures that have been recommended by the CDC and health officials. The virtual service will be streamed on Friday, May 15, at 6 p.m. on the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. 

🔹 Are you at home and needing something fun to do in order to kill the time? Want to learn more about how you can reduce waste and give new life to your garbage and recyclables while making art? Join AmeriCorps member Lilith Erbach for the McKinney Center's free Reusing Everything, Making Art, Keeping Engaged (R.E.M.A.K.E.) program. The program aims to educate and inform individuals in a fun and engaging environment where their creativity can thrive. This service-learning initiative is perfect for adults and teenagers, and can be modified for children. The project is a perfect summer learning opportunity for those ninth grade and above. Some of the projects featured will consist of making tin can planters, weaving with magazine pages, making mini jar terrariums, and creating jewelry out of plastic bottles. Each meetup is designed to utilize items attendees can find in their own home. The program will begin on May 23 and will be held every second and fourth Saturday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. until July 11. The classes will be held via Zoom in order to make the class more accessible, and to protect the health and well-being of all attendees, volunteers and staff members involved. To register for the first event, visit mckinneycenter.com, click register, and find Tin Can Planters under featured events.

🔹 Virginia State Parks plans a gradual reopening of some facilities as the commonwealth slowly eases public health restrictions put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19. Statewide and park-specific operational plans have been developed to comply with group size limitations and social distancing requirements. Anyone planning to visit Virginia State Parks for the remainder of spring and through summer should anticipate changes to normal park operations. Some facilities remain closed, and other amenities will not be available. Park guests are encouraged to recreate at parks close to home. Strict social distancing requirements will remain in place. Group sizes are limited to 10 people. Guests must keep at least 6 feet apart from other guests. Anyone who is sick or has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should stay home. Guests should check www.virginiastateparks.gov for the latest information about individual parks before they leave home. As of May 14, trails for hiking, biking and equestrian use, boat ramps and picnic tables and grills (for groups fewer than 10) will open at most facilities. Opening for Memorial Day weekend are: restrooms, campgrounds (except at Twin Lakes), camping cabins and yurts, boat and bike rentals (varies by park) and the chairlift at Natural Tunnel (on a limited schedule). All swimming pools will remain closed through the 2020 summer season.

🔹 In Tennessee, motor vehicle registration renewals due in May have been extended to June 15, 2020. Gov. Bill Lee extended the deadline for obtaining these renewals through Executive Order No. 36. To avoid any unnecessary face-to-face contact amid COVID-19, the department strongly encourages motorists to renew their registration online at tncountyclerk.com. If you do not have online access or your county does not have online renewals, you can find your local county clerk’s address on the tncountyclerk.com website and mail in your renewal.

🔹 Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee released a statement recommending that the government increase SNAP benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent survey of the Feeding America network, every single one of the 200 member food banks reported a significant increase in need for food assistance in their communities, with an average 60 percent increase in demand. “We believe SNAP benefits should be increased by 15 percent so we can help feed families who are already and newly struggling against hunger,” the statement reads. “SNAP is proven to help safeguard the food security of people in times of need and its strength is unparalleled. In fact, for every meal the Feeding America network provides, SNAP provides nine.” For more information on Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, visit www.netfoodbank.org or Facebook.com/netfoodbank, or call (423) 279-0430.

🔹 House Commerce Committee Chairman Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) today announced a $500,000 grant for the Johnson County Community Hospital through the Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grant program. Established in partnership with the Department of Economic & Community Development (TNECD) and the Department of Finance & Administration, the Rural Hospital Readiness Grant program is designed to support small and rural facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. All funds are capped at $500,000 per hospital; they provide temporary resources for facilities facing a financial strain related to patient declines because of the COVID-19 pandemic and while federal funds are still being processed and allocated to health facilities.

🔹 The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released data on unemployment claims filed for the week ending May 9, 2020. Statewide, 29,308 new claims were filed, along with 325,095 continued claims. In Northeast Tennessee, 1,101 new claims were filed.

🔹 Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam today announced that April revenue collections fell 26.2%, primarily due to the extension of individual and corporate income tax deadlines until June 1 to provide relief to Virginians amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The governor deferred individual and corporate income tax payments due between April 1 and June 1, until June 1, 2020. The extension applies to taxable year 2019 final payments and extension payments, and the first estimated payment for taxable year 2020.

🔹 The Virginia Department of Health today released testing data broken out by PCR (diagnostic) and antibody (serology) tests. Antibody tests make up less than nine percent of overall tests. When these tests are removed from total results, there is minimal change in the percent positive of tests and no difference in overall trends. The Virginia Department of Health defines a case as confirmed when there is a positive PCR test. A goal in monitoring the number of testing encounters and the percent of COVID-19 tests that are positive is to gauge the capacity of the healthcare system to perform COVID-19 testing. In the past three weeks the number of antibody tests being utilized has increased in Virginia. Due to this change, going forward the Virginia Department of Health will provide a breakdown of the COVID-19 test data by all test types and by only PCR tests.

Read more

Northeast Tennessee sees six new COVID-19 cases

Public invited to listen in on Monday's Hawkins County Commission meeting

BMS to host NASCAR races on May 30-31

Schaus faces challenges in first year as SoCon commissioner

Both 'unofficial' Hawkins proms set for the third weekend in July

Sullivan seniors to cross finish line at Bristol track

Walker on Domtar: 'We're just being very hopeful for them'

Decision on restarting NET high school athletics expected next week

Virginia reopens in “small step” Friday – except for Northern Virginia

NSCC students recognize 11 faculty members for online teaching excellence

Wednesday, May 13

Schedule changes

🔹 The Kingsport Aquatic Center will begin a phased, limited reopening on May 18. Some operations have changed to comply with the Tennessee Pledge. The KAC’s priority is safeguarding both guests and its team, so it is following guidelines from the CDC, the White House, the state of Tennessee and the Sullivan County Regional Health Department. At the direction of the SCRHD, the KAC can allow no more than 10 people in the indoor pool area at any time for lap swim and individual exercise in a lap lane. Pool time must be reserved in advance by calling the front desk at (423) 343-9758 to ensure ample pool space and social distancing protocol. At this time, the KAC plans to open the warm pool and new outdoor lap pool for lap swim and individual water exercise on June 1. Swim team practice and aerobics classes are projected to resume in mid-June.

🔹 Alcatraz East Crime Museum will be reopening, following the COVID-19 closure, on May 15, 2020. The museum, located at 2757 Parkway in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., is taking new safety measures to help keep visitors safe and healthy. To help “police” these new safety rules, the museum is introducing their mascot, “Doc” (law enforcement abbreviation for Department of Corrections). Guests will see various signage and friendly safety reminders from Doc throughout the museum. Museum changes will include reduced hours and capacity, heightening cleaning efforts, spatial distancing protocols, employee health screening and employee PPE. Guests are encouraged to review all safety rules prior to their visit on the museum web page devoted to COVID-19: https://www.alcatrazeast.com/covid-19/.

News updates

🔹 The LENOWISCO Health District will schedule community testing sites for COVID-19 at locations across Lee, Scott and Wise counties during the month of May. Those who are uninsured or underinsured, as well as those with symptoms of illness are encouraged to call for an appointment. Testing resources are limited, and only those pre-screened and approved for testing will be admitted, and only by appointment. For the most accurate and up to date information, please visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lenowisco/.

🔹 The Cumberland Plateau Health District will schedule community testing sites for COVID-19 at locations across Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell and Tazewell counties during the month of May. Those who are uninsured or underinsured, as well as those with symptoms of illness are encouraged to call for an appointment. Testing resources are limited, and only those pre-screened and approved for testing will be admitted, and only by appointment. For the most accurate and up to date information, please visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/cumberlandplateau.

🔹 Marsh Regional Blood Center is experiencing an urgent need for blood donations and encourages all eligible donors to come out and give. COVID-19 does not pose any known risk to blood donors during the donation process or by attending blood drives. Marsh Regional always takes steps to prevent team members and donors who are not feeling well or who have a fever from reaching the donor area, and they are now taking additional social distancing precautions wherever possible. Plus, Marsh Regional continues to take appropriate measures to reduce donors’ potential exposure to COVID-19, as well as extra disinfection and sanitization efforts. To make an appointment, call (423) 408-7500.

🔹 Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems is offering appointments to community members for coronavirus (COVID-19) testing at the Saltville Medical Center’s drive-thru site. Appointments are available on Tuesday, May 19, between 3 and 5 p.m. Testing is not available on a walk-in basis. Insurance information will be collected at the time of the appointment scheduling and insurance will be billed for the test. For patients who do not have insurance, financial assistance is available to cover the cost of testing. The tests will be offered to the first 24 people who call and request testing. Depending on demand, SVCHS may expand the testing available at future events. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (276) 496-4492.

🔹 The city of Bristol, Tennessee will continue distributing free, reusable face masks to city residents on Saturday morning as part of a statewide plan to equip all Tennesseans with personal protective equipment. Masks will be given out in the parking lot of the Bristol, Tennessee Municipal Building, 801 Anderson St., from 9 a.m. until noon, on Saturday, May 16. Please remain in your vehicle and drive around to the distribution site. Supplies are limited, and you must be present to receive a mask.

🔹 Tennesseans are closely following news about the COVID-19 pandemic. They express concern about themselves or a loved one being infected and they are making choices accordingly, finds the most recent Tennessee Poll. The Applied Social Research Lab (ASRL) at East Tennessee State University surveyed 618 Tennesseans from April 22-May 1, 2020, about their thoughts, concerns and actions related to COVID-19. This field period was uniquely situated as the statewide stay-at-home order expired and Tennessee entered into phase one of its reopening plan.

🔹 Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems is offering appointments to community members for coronavirus (COVID-19) testing at the Saltville Medical Center’s drive-thru site. Appointments are available on Tuesday, May 19, 2020 between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Testing is not available on a walk-in basis. Insurance information will be collected at the time of the appointment scheduling and insurance will be billed for the test. For patients who do not have insurance, financial assistance is available to cover the cost of testing. The tests will be offered to the first 24 people who call and request testing. Depending on demand SVCHS may expand the testing available at future events. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (276) 496-4492.

Read more

Southwest Virginia sees new COVID-19 case, fourth death

UVA-Wise chancellor: College plans for fall semester on campus

More exciting NASCAR could emerge from shutdown

United Way providing rent, utility assistance during pandemic

Northeast graduates 1,497 in virtual ceremony

Kingsport school board recommends more than $80.1 million general purpose budget

Far SWVA sees new COVID-19 case, fourth death

Venable extends Sullivan state of emergency

Tuesday, May 12

Schedule changes

🔹 The Virginia Creeper Trail will reopen effective Tuesday, May 12, at 5 p.m.; however, facilities and services along the trail will remain closed. The Center for Disease Control’s guidelines related to social distancing will be required for use of the trail during the COVID-19 pandemic along with other steps aimed at protecting public health. All visitors should plan to bring their own water and hand sanitizer. Most trash receptacles will not be available so trail users should plan to “pack-in and pack-out.” Routine trail maintenance will be limited. For more information, visit vacreepertrail.org.

🔹 Tennessee Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA) campgrounds are now open to leisure camping after a statewide lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Locations are adhering to guidelines and recommendations from local health organizations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most KOAs have chosen to responsibly invite guests by altering cleaning procedures, offering unique social distancing activities, offering contact-free check-in and more. Visit KOA.com to learn more and make reservations.

News updates

🔹 Today, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed Executive Order Nos. 36 and 37, extending the state of emergency declaration from May 18, 2020 to June 30, 2020, in order to extend certain provisions facilitating the State’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The full orders can be found here.

🔹 Despite the temporary closure, Hands On! Discovery Center employees have been working hard to create educational opportunities for the children and families in our region. Over the past several weeks, the Discovery Center has produced Facebook Live videos each weekday at 1:30 p.m. The videos, which feature programs that can be done at home, focus on art and different areas of science. Families can learn about basic chemistry, biology, and physics, among many other topics. Each program is designed to complement what students are learning in their virtual classrooms. The videos are also recorded and uploaded to the Discovery Center's YouTube channel, along with Tennessee curriculum standards. Additionally, Hands On! is now offering several exciting Discovery Kits that allow families to have an art or science programmatic experience in their own home. Two types of kits are available, both providing fun and interactive learning opportunities for students. Discovery at Home Kits include topics such as bubbles, the solar system, engineering, and sculpture. Discovery Rental Kits may be rented for one week and include exciting subjects like the laws of motion, density, and magnets. Also available for rent are kits that include fossils, miniature Imagination Playground Blocks, and Keva Planks. Most kits are $10 each and are currently available for local pick-up. More information can be found at visithandson.org.

🔹 Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) are leading a nationwide study to determine the rate of novel coronavirus infection in U.S. children and their families. The study, named the HEROS (Human Epidemiology and Response to SARS-CoV-2) study and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), aims to gain insight into how many children ages 1 to 21 have been infected, the percentage of those infected who develop symptoms of COVID-19 and any differences in immune responses to the virus between children and adults within the same household. It will also examine whether infection rates differ between children who have asthma or other allergies and children who do not, including the impact of topical steroids used to treat asthma and allergies.

🔹 Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam today issued Executive Order Sixty-Two, allowing specific localities in Northern Virginia to delay entering Phase One of the “Forward Virginia” plan to ease restrictions on certain business operations that were put in place in response to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Northam has said that Virginia as a whole may enter Phase One on Friday, May 15, as outlined in Executive Order Sixty-One, based on achieving certain health metrics. Executive Order Sixty-Two allows the Northern Virginia localities to delay implementation of Phase One until midnight on Thursday, May 28, to allow those localities more time to meet the health metrics.

🔹 First Horizon National Corp. (NYSE:FHN) today announced that First Horizon Bank has helped more than 13,000 small businesses secure loans totaling approximately $2.1 billion through the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). These PPP loans will help sustain nearly 300,000 jobs at businesses in communities across its network. In addition, approximately 22% of the loans secured went to women-owned, minority-owned and low- to moderate-income tract designated businesses.

🔹 Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley today announced that revenues for April were less than the monthly revenues from the previous year. Overall state revenues for April were $1.3 billion, which is a negative growth rate of 39.75% compared to last year and $693.8 million less than the state budgeted. “The signs of economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic have begun to appear in Tennessee’s April tax receipts,” Eley said. “April sales tax revenues, reflecting March taxable sales activity, were weakened as the state began to withdraw from its usual patterns of consumer spending by mid-month. Franchise and excise tax receipts, along with Hall income and business taxes are also notably reduced due to filing extensions that will allow individuals and businesses to report their taxable activity later in the year.” The Tennessee Department of Revenue extended the due date for certain taxes on April 6, 2020; those can be found at https://www.tn.gov/revenue/news/2020/3/31/tennessee-extends-certain-tax-deadlines-due-to-covid-19.html.

🔹 Borden Dairy was awarded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) largest contract through its new Farmers to Families Food Box Program as part of the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program (CFAP). The contract will enable Borden to supply 700 million servings of fresh fluid milk for free to qualifying 501(c)3 organizations starting this Friday, May 15. Borden will supply milk to consumers in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest regions, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Non-profit organizations interested in receiving a production donation from Borden should email [email protected].

Read more

Editorial: Keep live-streaming government meetings

Dentsply Sirona temporarily lays off 52

Revised graduation plan moves Cherokee, Volunteer events to consecutive Saturdays

New Vision Youth honors a special nurse

Girls on the Run invites community to join virtual 5K

Area administrators consider plan to restart high school athletics

Sullivan County courts reopening within social distancing guidelines

Kingsport facing tough budget year in 2021

Northam: Most of Virginia still on track for Friday reopening

Alexander in self-quarantine after staffer tests positive

Monday, May 11

Schedule changes

🔹 The Cherokee National Forest will reopen developed recreation sites beginning May 15 using a site-by-site approach, including assessment of facility cleanliness, maintenance status, and health and safety of recreation areas. Expect reopenings to not be quick or permanent. Some day-use sites, such as shooting ranges, picnic areas and small campgrounds, are currently scheduled to reopen on May 15. Additional sites and campgrounds are schedule to open May 24. Most remaining campgrounds will likely open the first week of June. Projected opening dates may vary depending on circumstances, and it may be necessary to not open or to close areas again if conditions change. Most boat launches, trails and the general forest area, including river corridors, have remained open to hiking, biking, boating, dispersed camping, hunting, fishing, etc. For information on the projected schedule of Cherokee National Forest recreation site opening dates and locations by Ranger District, visit www.fs.usda.gov/cherokee.

🔹 The George L. Carter Railroad Museum announces that the Annual East Tennessee State University Train Show, scheduled for Memorial Center on Friday, June 5, and Saturday, June 6, has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The university has decided not to hold any public gatherings on campus through June, necessitating the show’s the cancellation. The organizers wish to thank those vendors who had committed to the show and express their disappointment to both vendors and attendees over the cancellation. Plans are already underway for the show’s return in June 2021.

🔹 The Town of Unicoi’s annual Freedom Fest, scheduled for July 4, has been cancelled to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The decision comes after Johnson City announced the cancellation of its Fourth of July celebration a few weeks ago and the CDC continues to encourage social distancing. While larger events like Freedom Fest won’t be held this year, the Unicoi Farmers Market & Community Yard Sale will begin June 2 as previously scheduled. The programs department is working to create new guidelines and procedures similar to other regional farmer’s markets and will announce those within the coming weeks.

News updates

🔹 The Heritage Alliance will host its first Virtual Field Trip Day on Monday, May 18. Throughout the day, the Alliance will offer tours and activities online for students learning from home. The day will include a look at its one room schoolhouse Oak Hill School, an interactive tour of Main Street Jonesborough, a tour of the third-floor bedroom of the Chester Inn Museum, an interactive artifact exploration and much more. The Heritage Alliance will be streaming and posting content for students from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The day will also include visits to the Christopher Taylor House, the Chuckey Depot Museum and the Old Jonesborough Cemetery, with some surprises thrown in. To help cover expenses, the Heritage Alliance suggests a donation of $5-7, which covers the normal fee for a student during a field trip. Donations can be made online at www.heritageall.org.

🔹 Tennesseans’ thoughts related to the COVID-19 pandemic are the primary focus of the latest statewide Tennessee Poll conducted by the Applied Social Research Lab (ASRL) at East Tennessee State University. ASRL will release a series of poll results from the Tennessee Poll 2020 poll beginning later this week. The poll surveyed 618 Tennesseans from April 22-May 1, 2020, via telephone and has a margin of error of +/- 3.9%. Results will be provided for topic areas by likely voter status, as well as other key demographic characteristics. In addition to questions pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tennessee Poll asked a series of questions related to the current state of Tennessee and the nation, as well as citizens’ voting preferences for the fall 2020 elections.

🔹 Big Brothers Big Sisters of East TN Tri-Cities makes its first virtual match in May. The organization is still working to match children in our region who need a mentor. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, email [email protected] or visit www.tennesseebig.org.

🔹 Federal guidelines the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development follows to administer the Tennessee Unemployment Compensation (TUC) program state an individual must be willing and able to work to receive unemployment benefits. Not returning to work when there is available employment may be considered a “refusal of work” and could potentially disqualify claimants from receiving TUC benefits. The federal CARES Act provides provisions for individuals who have traditionally been ineligible for state unemployment benefits, but those provisions do not apply to employees apprehensive about returning to work because of health concerns. Under federal law, workers who have been placed on a temporary layoff related to COVID-19 who can work, and do not qualify for any other Unemployment Insurance provisions through the state or under the CARES Act, must return to work if called back. Employees and employers can find answers to commonly asked questions about returning to work on the Department’s website, www.tn.gov/workforce.

🔹 The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced a $3.75 million grant to Appalachian Community Capital (ACC) for the ARC-ACC Emergency Business Response Assistance Program to strengthen and stabilize the Region's Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and other mission-driven development finance lenders serving small businesses impacted by COVID-19 related losses. Through this partnership, the ARC-ACC Emergency Business Response Assistance Program will help designated community-based lenders cover operational costs and offset some of the income they are losing by suspending or reducing payments from their borrowers during the COVID-19 crisis. Lenders will be able to use the funds for operational support and for direct technical assistance to Appalachian small business and non-profit borrowers. ARC anticipates 400 businesses will be served; $15 million in leveraged private investment will be attracted; and 200 jobs will be retained across the 13-state Appalachian Region. ACC will administer the program, supervise progress, and monitor implementation. To participate, CDFIs or other mission-driven development finance lenders serving the Appalachian Region must either be a member of Appalachian Community Capital or previously funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. ACC expects to deploy the initial funding later this month.

🔹 Delta Dental of Tennessee (Delta Dental) today announced a commitment of more than $3.3 million for Operation #SmilesMatter, a grant program to help Tennessee dentists acquire much needed supplies, equipment and technology as they prepare to reopen their practices following COVID-19-related closures. Delta Dental will be funding a $1,000 “allowance” or credit available to all dentists in Tennessee, regardless of whether they participate in Delta Dental’s network, to purchase dental products. Dentists can learn more about participation in Operation #SmilesMatter at https://tennessee.deltadental.com/ppe.

Read more

Gas prices rise for first time in weeks as demand grows

Hawkins awarded federal funding for emergency food and shelter programs

Sullivan County awarded emergency food, shelter funds

Support available locally for businesses grappling with federal loan process

Far SW Va. COVID-19 cases level for 10th straight day

Kingsport bracing for $5.4 million shortfall this year

Sunday, May 10

Read more

Local family creates its own Quarantine Olympics

Tennessee reports nearly 15,000 cases of COVID-19

Small business owners discuss challenges of reopening

Planned summer baseball league has roster questions

'It's a challenging time for people faced with that grief'

Scott County nurse on front lines of COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey

Kingsport outlines plan for reopening facilities

Saturday, May 9

Schedule changes

🔹 The 72nd annual Virginia Highlands Festival in Abingdon has been canceled. In a statement posted on Facebook, organizers said, “Over the past several weeks we have monitored the COVID-19 pandemic very closely to fully understand how it might impact our 2020 summer festival. We have already put an incredible amount of effort and expense into planning, modifying operations and modeling out every precautionary measure possible to ensure the safety of our staff, artists and attendees. In the end, we found that we are unable to safely hold the 72nd annual Virginia Highlands Festival this summer as scheduled (July 24-August 2). Although there will be statements later this week and plans for reopening arts and entertainment venues throughout Virginia, the uncertainty of what will be safe for our artists and audiences, as well as our financial position, necessitated making a decision now. Over the next few days, we will be in touch with our artists, vendors, sponsors, advertisers and patrons to issue refunds, transfer reservations to next summer, and continue work on our Plein Air Abingdon festival, which will take place Oct. 8-10.”

🔹 Based on state guidance and what we believe to be best practices for public events at this time, all Bristol Dragway May events are postponed. We will continue to monitor the situation while our team develops new guidelines for racing operations to ensure the safety of all. Updates will be provided on the Bristol Dragway website and social channels.

News updates

🔹 Northeast State Community College announced it will soon start disbursing to students the federal emergency financial assistance provided under the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act recently approved by the U.S. Congress. Northeast State has received $2.2 million to help college students cover costs related to the disruption of campus operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These may include eligible expenses such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The College will distribute 90 percent of the funds to eligible students (as outlined below) and 10 percent through special payments to students with additional needs, through an application process. Students eligible for payments are degree-seeking students who were enrolled full- or part-time on or after March 13 for the Spring 2020 semester. Students who have filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are eligible. Students who have not filed a FAFSA but who are eligible to file also may receive emergency fund grants. These student populations are not eligible for emergency funds: students who initially enrolled exclusively in distance education courses as of March 13, 2020; high school dual-enrollment students; non-degree-seeking students, and employees in special-industry training programs at the College. Northeast State students may set up direct deposit at https://www.northeaststate.edu/Admission/Business-Office/Student-Account-Suite/ by clicking the “Set up Electronic Refunds” button. Then click on the Student and Staff button and log into the account with a current student ID number and password. From there, enter banking information for electronic refunds.

🔹 East Tennessee State University conferred more than 2,200 degrees today during its Virtual Commencement Ceremony at 10 a.m. The ceremony included special congratulatory remarks from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and country music superstar Dolly Parton, as well as special music from the ETSU Chorale. A link to each college ceremony is available at www.etsu.edu/classof2020.

🔹 Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed Executive Order Sixty-One and presented a detailed framework for the first phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-19. The Phase One guidelines will be implemented when the data meets the public health criteria outlined by the Commonwealth. Phase One guidelines for specific sectors are available at virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia.

Read more

Do your part to stay safe as businesses reopen

VIDEOS: ETSU awards 2,247 degrees in Class of 2020 virtual commencement

What a difference a year and a pandemic make: UVA Wise holds virtual commencement

Hawkins director of schools reaching out to students to improve graduation plan

Third COVID-19 case reported at Wallens Ridge (plus state numbers)

iRacing opens up new world for NASCAR

Words of Comfort: Faith is a deliberate choice

Want to honor your graduate? We can help

Friday, May 8

Schedule changes

🔹 This year’s annual Rhododendron Festival at Roan Mountain has been canceled. The organizer of the event, the Roan Mountain Citizens Club, announced the closure on the club’s Facebook page on Thursday

🔹 In the interest of public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nashville Symphony has extended the suspension of all concert activity at Schermerhorn Symphony Center through July 3, 2020. The orchestra has also postponed two scheduled performances at Ascend Amphitheater and has cancelled the entirety of its Community Concerts series in June. The list of postponed or canceled Nashville Symphony concerts can be found at NashvilleSymphony.org/coronavirus.

🔹 Following the guidelines from the State of Tennessee and Knox County Health Department, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame will reopen on June 1, 2020. The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame closed on March 16, 2020, in support of efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The WBHOF will follow Knox County Health Department guidelines for 50% capacity, and 10 guests per event. Our team will be tested prior to work to ensure they are not sick, and we ask that guests do not come to the WBHOF if they are sick or have been in contact with a COVID-19 patient. Safe social distancing, 6 feet apart, will be practiced by WBHOF staff and visitors. The WBHOF team will be wearing masks and will ask that visitors wear masks while at the hall. Only one entrance from the parking lot on Hill Avenue to the WBHOF will be utilized.

News updates

🔹 With so many individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19, Kingsport runners decided to hold a virtual event they call "Virtually Crazy: Kingsport's First Socially Distant 8K." During the month of July, runners from around the Tri-Cities will compete virtually against each other, while raising money for local businesses, nonprofits and individuals affected by the pandemic. Unlike traditional races, runners won’t gather at a start line — instead they'll follow social distancing guidelines, select a route and run at their own convenience, tracking their time with popular apps like Garmin and Strava to see how they stack up to the competition. During the month of July, the runners will also be able to nominate and vote for the organizations and individuals they believe most deserving of the funds raised. With the entire event being run by volunteers, and with overhead costs covered through donations of time and money by Kingsport residents, all money raised will go directly to the people who need it most. Details at https://virtuallycrazy.run.

🔹 Hawkins County has been awarded CARES Funds made available through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program. CARES is short for Coronvirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Hawkins County has been chosen to receive $30,807 to supplement emergency food and shelter programs in the county. Hawkins County has also been awarded Federal Funds made available through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program. Hawkins County has been chosen to receive $21,608 to supplement emergency food and shelter programs in the county.

🔹 Erwin Utilities is proud to announce that it has partnered with the United Way of Unicoi County and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to help Unicoi County residents during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Erwin Utilities and the United Way of Unicoi County will collectively match up to $10,000 in donations from the community. Additionally, TVA will match up to $10,000 through its COVID-19 Community Care Fund, which helps local power companies, like Erwin Utilities, meet immediate needs in their communities related to COVID-19. To reach this collaboration’s maximum potential, a communitywide minimum goal of $10,000 in donations has been established. Those who are interested in donating are asked to mail a check to the United Way of Unicoi County at P.O. Box 343, Erwin, TN 37650 or contribute through the United Way of Unicoi County PayPal account at www.e-u.cc/info/relief/. The PayPal site will accept credit card, debit card, or PayPal contributions.

🔹 The U.S. Department of the Treasury and IRS today announced that nearly 130 million Americans have received Economic Impact Payments, worth more than $218 billion, in less than five weeks. These totals do not include the more than $2.5 billion delivered to U.S. territories for payment to territory residents. Individuals in Tennessee have received 2,881,709 Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) worth $4,980,110,718.

🔹 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced grants totaling $1,044,387 to HRSA-funded community health centers for expanded testing through funding made available by the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. Individual award recipients in Northeast Tennessee were $192,454 – East Tennessee State University, $243,409 – Rural Medical Services, Inc., and $608,524 – Rural Health Services Consortium, Inc.

🔹 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded $1,603,213 to Community Health Centers in Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District to expand coronavirus testing. Local providers receiving funding include Clinch River Health Services Inc. in Dungannon ($138,814) and St. Charles Health Council Inc. in Jonesville ($356,074).

🔹 East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy celebrated the Class of 2020 with a Virtual Hooding and Commencement for its 68 graduates on Friday, May 8. The Class of 2020 is the 11th graduating class of Gatton College of Pharmacy, and the first class at the college to celebrate its commencement virtually.

Read more

Scott supervisors extend continuity of government ordinance

SAC may play fewer games in response to COVID-19 pandemic

SW Va. reports third COVID-19 death, second in Scott

Sullivan high school graduations tentatively set for July 31, Aug. 1

Photo gallery: YMCA opens

Virginia Phase I reopening details revealed

Far SWVA reports third COVID-19 death

The epidemic a recurring theme in Rogersville National Day of Prayer observance

Graduatin' the way it oughta be: Sullivan seniors may cross finish line at Bristol race track

Thursday, May 7

Schedule changes

🔹 The VHSL Executive Committee during its May meeting today voted (31-0-1) to cancel all spring sports and activities for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19. “This extremely difficult decision was made knowing the great disappointment our student-athletes, academic activity participants, coaches, administrators, parents, and their communities will experience. We share those same feelings as well,” said VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. “We especially grieve with those senior athletes and activity participants who will not have an opportunity to represent their school or wear their school jersey one final time after years of hard work and dedication.”

🔹 A plan has been approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court to reopen courts in Sullivan County. Most courts within Sullivan County plan to reopen the week of May 11. The maximum number of individuals allowed in each courtroom will be 10 exclusive of judges, necessary court personnel and court security. Video hearings are strongly recommended and will be utilized as much as possible. For all in-person hearings, everyone entering the courtroom will be screened to be sure they do not have any symptoms of illness and elevated temperature taken by infrared thermometer. It is suggested the attorneys, clients and witnesses bring and wear an appropriate mask.

🔹 Appalachian Orthopedics has resumed elective surgery, or scheduled nonemergency surgery, for its patients. Since the state has eased restrictions preserving the stocks of health care resources, including personal protective equipment, ventilators, etc., Appalachian Orthopedics will offer elective and emergency surgical treatment.

🔹 As large summer conferences and mass gatherings remain in doubt amidst continued social distancing recommendations from public health officials, the Tennessee Valley Corridor announced today it is shifting its Annual Summit and 25th anniversary celebration to a series of special online events this summer. Originally scheduled to be held July 15-16 at Milligan College in Johnson City, the Corridor's Annual Summit will instead convene participants online for a series of weekly Summit sessions beginning Thursday, July 16, for five consecutive weeks. Each session will highlight many of the same speakers, topics and organizations, but the new virtual format aims to maximize participation during the continued COVID-19 crisis. For more information about the Tennessee Valley Corridor and the National Summit, visit www.TennValleyCorridor.org or email TVC Executive Director Darrell Akins at [email protected].

 News updates

🔹 The LENOWISCO Health District has activated drive-up testing sites for COVID-19 at each local health department in Lee, Scott and Wise counties. Testing is being conducted in the parking lot of each health department Monday through Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. by appointment only, after being screened on the phone by a nurse. In order to be approved for testing, you must call in advance for a screening interview. Those that are approved for testing will receive an appointment time. You must bring a valid ID to the testing site. To avoid lengthy wait times, please come to the site at your appointed time and bring your documentation with you. To request a screening, please call: Lee County Health Department at (276) 346-2011; Scott County Health Department at (276) 386-1312; and Wise County/City of Norton Health Department at (276) 328-8000.

🔹 The Cumberland Plateau Health District has activated drive-thru testing sites for COVID-19 at each local health department in Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell and Tazewell counties. Testing is being conducted in the parking lot of each health department Monday through Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. by appointment only, after being screened on the phone by a nurse. In order to be approved for testing, you must call in advance for a screening interview. Those that are approved for testing will receive an appointment time. You must bring a valid ID to the testing site. To avoid lengthy wait times, please come to the site at your appointed time and bring your documentation with you. To request a screening, please call: Buchanan County Health Department at (276) 935-4591; Dickenson County Health Department at (276) 926-4576; Russell County Health Department at (276) 889-7621 and Tazewell County Health Department at (276) 988-5585.

🔹 The City of Bristol, Tennessee, will begin providing free face masks to city residents on Friday, May 8, as part of Gov. Bill Lee’s plan to provide all Tennesseans with personal protective equipment. Beginning at 1 p.m on Friday, May 8, the city will be distributing the reusable, cloth masks in the parking lot on the Alabama Street side of the Ida Stone Jones Community Tennis Center. Supplies are limited and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. You must be present to receive a mask. For additional information, please contact the Department of Community Relations at (423) 764-4171 or [email protected].

🔹 Today, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued Executive Order No. 35, amending Executive Order No. 30 to allow for the reopening of small group, non-contact entertainment, and recreational venues according to new Economic Recovery Group guidelines. Read the full text here.

🔹 Yesterday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued Executive Order No. 34, extending Executive Order No. 16 to allow for government bodies to hold meetings remotely until June 30 to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Tennessee.

🔹 Dr. Robert Pack, executive director of East Tennessee State University’s Addiction Science Center, will moderate a panel discussion, via webinar, on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting efforts to address the opioid crisis. The webinar, which is part of the 2020 Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Virtual Annual Meeting, will be held on Friday, May 8, from 1-2 p.m. For more information or to register, visit www.aspph.org/aspphevents/2020virtualannualmeeting/.

🔹 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), awarded $9,365,606 to 29 health centers in Tennessee, to expand COVID-19 testing. For a list of award recipients, visit https://bphc.hrsa.gov/emergency-response/expanding-capacity-coronavirus-testing-FY2020-awards.

🔹 The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has released data on unemployment claims filed for the week ending May 2, 2020. Statewide, there were 37,319 new claims filed and 321,571 continued claims. In Northeast Tennessee, 1,781 new claims were filed.

Read more

VHSL pulls plug on spring sports

Johnson City Omnium postponed until August

No new COVID-19 cases reported in SW Va. in seven days

Virginia students getting post-school food aid

The root of the problem: Hair salons way behind after two-month shutdown

Northam: Localities may choose to keep stricter limits during Virginia reopening

Past updates

🔹 To view the Times News COVID-19 blog for March 11-May 6, click here.