A mask mandate for Greene County will be continuing through the end of the month.

The extension comes as the county has had five more deaths from the coronavirus, according to the Friday’s daily update from the Tennessee Department Health. Twelve new local cases of the virus were reported on Friday and the number of active cases has declined by one to 113.

Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison said Friday that he intends to extend an executive order for the mask mandate through the end of September. The current mandate expires at midnight on Monday.

The county and the region have had a declining number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and the masts have appeared to help, Morrison said.

With the unpredictable way that the coronavirus affects individuals, wearing a mask is a way to help limit the spread, particularly to people who health officials say are more likely to experience serious complications such as the elderly, he said.

“It is a small price to pay to protect others,” the mayor added.

Morrison’s comments came during a coronavirus town hall he has hosted incrementally since the beginning of the pandemic. The town hall airs live on Radio Greeneville and is later posted on Facebook.

NEW COUNTY NUMBERS

The five new deaths reported Friday bring the total number of people who have died from the virus locally to 28. With the 12 new cases, there have been 974 cases of the virus reported in Greene County during the pandemic.

Eight more people are listed as inactive/recovered from the virus for Greene County. That number now totals 833 since the pandemic began. No new hospitalizations locally from the illness were reported Friday for the county. Sixty-six people locally have required hospital care due to COVID-19.

In addition to its daily update of coronavirus information, Fridays are when the state Department of Health updates its information about cases within assisted living centers and nursing homes.

According to that data, six of the 10 deaths from the coronavirus reported in Greene County during the past week are individuals from nursing homes — four residents of Signature Healthcare of Greeneville and two at Life Care Center of Greeneville.

Fifteen residents of Signature Healthcare have died from the virus, according to the state update, up four from last week. Three residents of Life Care Center have died during the pandemic, up two in the past seven days.

The number of residents at Life Care with the virus has increased by 25 in the past week, and stands at 71 of the 106 residents, according to the state date.

At Signature Healthcare, Friday’s update indicated that no additional residents have tested positive for the virus since last week. A total of 97 residents have had the virus at the nursing home.

More employees at both nursing homes have tested positive during the past seven days. At Life Care, 14 additional employees have the virus, as well as three more at Signature Healthcare. The number of employees from Signature who have had the virus now totals 64. Thirty-nine Life Care employees have or have had the virus.

It appears that no residents have an active case of COVID-19 at Signature as the number of residents who have recovered from the virus is now listed by the state at 72. At Life Care, 41 of the residents are listed as recovered from the illness.

Greene County continues to have the third highest number of active cases in the region behind Washington County with 221 and Sullivan County with 215, according to the state Health Department report.

The five local deaths were among the 37 reported in Tennessee on Friday, bringing the death toll up to 2,025 statewide. Across the state, 1,622 new cases were reported, bringing the total up to 169,859 since the pandemic began.

Nationwide, nearly 6.4 million people had tested positive for the virus as of Friday afternoon, and 191,353 had died from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

MASK INFORMATION

For the town hall, Morrison joined remotely from his home where he is in quarantine due to close contact with another county employee who is now ill with the virus. Morrison and six other county employees are now in quarantine.

None of those in quarantine had experienced any symptoms as of Friday, the mayor said.

“In the (Greene County Courthouse) Annex, we wear masks if we have contact with the public or are in close contact with other employees,” he continued. “There is no absolute proof that it helped or not. If it did, it has helped keep the rest of us well so far.”

Jamie Swift, chief infection prevention officer at Ballad Health, said the cloth masks most people are wearing are meant to limit the spread of droplets that could carry the virus. However, some recent studies indicate that cloth masks may provide some limiting of exposure for a person wearing a mask who comes in contact with an infected person also wearing a mask, Swift said.

“Right now, we don’t have a lot of tools in our arsenal to fight the coronavirus,” she said. “But, wearing a mask, social distancing and hand hygiene are three things we can do to limit the spread. … The more masks we wear, the slower we keep the spread.”

The Centers for Disease Control has released an advisory for people to not wear masks that have exhalation valves, Swift noted. Those masks are designed to protect the wearer, but allow droplets through the valve.

There have been some studies that show single-layer neck gaiters are not an effective facial covering, she said, but those results have been challenged and more studies are now underway.

REPORTING CHANGE

Evolving knowledge about the virus has resulted in another change that was addressed by Cathy Osborne, director of the Greene County Health Department.

Last week, the Tennessee Department of Health changed the way it reports data about cases.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Health Department was able to keep in contact with people who tested positive for the virus and determine when they were recovered, she said, but the number of people infected became too large to be able to do that any longer.

The department then set 21 days past a person’s onset of symptoms or positive test as its measure for what cases to identify as “recovered.” However, recent data from the CDC indicate that a person is no longer infectious after 10 days, and the state Health Department revised its reporting last week to count people as “inactive/recovered” 14 days after the onset of symptoms or a positive test if a person is asymptomatic.

Testing continues each weekday at the local Health Department. The number of people seeking tests has fallen since peaking in July and early August, she said.

REOPENING

Greeneville City Administrator Todd Smith said the downward trend in cases has resulted in the Parks & Recreation Department opening up more of its facilities. The children’s playground and pavilions at Hardin Park reopened earlier this week and the EastView Recreation Center gym will reopen next week for walkers.

A new all-inclusive playground under construction at Hardin Park will open soon as well, Smith said.

“We want encourage people to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather we are having,” he said.

A concern for local governments has been the collection of sales tax revenues with the shutdown of businesses that occurred in the spring due to the pandemic.

With the reopening of businesses in late spring, Smith said the town has been pleasantly surprised at how strong the local economy has grown.

For the past two months, the collections of local option sales taxes and state-shared taxes the town receives are up about $320,000 over the collections from the same period in 2019.

The town adopted a conservative budget due to the uncertainty with the pandemic, Smith said, and the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen may be revisiting the budget to make adjustments in the fall if revenues remain strong.

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