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Health Officials Recommend Small Thanksgiving Gatherings Amid Pandemic

The safest Thanksgiving this year will be one enjoyed with the members of a person’s immediate household.

That was the guidance given by Ballad Health officials during their weekly COVID-19 briefing Wednesday.

“The only safe way to have Thanksgiving this year is to have dinner with your immediate household,” said Jamie Swift, chief prevention officer for Ballad Health.

“I know this is hard. I know it doesn’t make for a great holiday season,” Swift said, adding her extended family had planned a get-together that involved five households, but now each of those is having their own meal separately.

There are options for families to connect with each other through a phone call or video calling applications such as FaceTime or Zoom, she said.

“The feeling of your holiday being slightly diminished is nothing compared to the grief felt by the families of the people in this region that we have lost to COVID,” she said. “Their special days and holidays will always be a little dimmer because their loved one is gone.”

Swift said she has heard people share that they are concerned that it might be a loved one’s last Thanksgiving and don’t want to miss it because of the pandemic. “I challenge you to not let your Thanksgiving dinner be the reason that someone does have their last Thanksgiving.”

For guests traveling to join family members, the only safe practice would have been quarantining for 14 days paired with negative virus tests. With less than a week until Thanksgiving, that is no longer an option, Swift said.

Some of have said they are thinking of having a rapid test on the morning of Thanksgiving. But a negative test result is not an absolute guarantee that a person does not have the virus, because the test has a 15% error rate, she said.

The community is asked to forego the large family gatherings this year to avoid a rise in cases related to the holiday at a time when the health system’s resources are already stretched due to a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, Swift said.

An unpublished report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force linked the recent rise of cases in Tennessee to Halloween activities, she said, and Thanksgiving could bring another dramatic increase if precautions are not taken. Ballad Health has reported record numbers of new cases and hospitalizations in the past week.


Twenty-two new cases of COVID-19 were reported Friday for Greene County by the Tennessee Department of Health, bringing the number of local cases during the pandemic to 2,715.

There were no new deaths, hospitalizations or new cases reported in nursing homes in the county Friday.

There were 357 active cases of the virus in the county on Friday, down 20 from the previous report, according to the daily update.

Ballad Health reported that 220 people were hospitalized within its facilities with COVID-19 on Friday, with 39 in intensive care and 30 on ventilators. Eight more people had been admitted with coronavirus symptoms awaiting test results.

The positive test rate — reflecting people who tested positive for the virus among all those tested in the previous seven days — declined slightly on Friday for the region to 18.1%, according to Ballad Health.

In the 10 counties in Northeast Tennessee served by Ballad Health, 315 new cases were reported by the Department of Health on Friday. Sullivan County had more than a third of them with 135 new cases.

The number of the active cases in the 10 counties was 3,115, according to Friday’s state report.

Across the state, 74 additional deaths were reported on Friday from the virus, bringing the death toll from the virus in Tennessee to 4,202.

The Department of Health reported 3,444 new cases for the state in Friday’s report. Since March, 331,532 people have contracted the virus in Tennessee.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 185,000 new cases Friday. The federal agency reported that 251,715 Americans had died from the virus as of midday Friday.


Given the increased spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control also advises that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is with people in your household.

The CDC asks people to consider hosting a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends and family who don’t live in the household, scheduling a time time to share a meal together virtually and possibly sharing recipes.

Other activities recommended for the holiday are preparing traditional dishes and safely delivering them without contact to family and neighbors, sharing a gratitude activity with family and friends, watching Thanksgiving Day parades, sports and movies on television at home or playing games. The CDC also advises shopping online sales after Thanksgiving and using contactless service for purchased items or shopping in open air markets, staying 6 feet away from others.

If people plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside their household, the CDC advises steps be taken to make the celebration safer. These include observing the normal virus preventative measures such as wearing a mask, staying 6 feet away from others and frequently washing hands.

If people attend a dinner in someone else’s home, they are advised:

  • to bring their own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils;
  • wear a mask, and safely store their mask while eating and drinking;
  • avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen, and
  • use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

Those hosting a meal are advised by the CDC to:

  • have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community,
  • limit the number of guests,
  • have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together,
  • clean frequently touched surfaces and items between use,
  • if celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows,

limit the number of people in food preparation areas,

  • have guests bring their own food and drink, and
  • if sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.

New W.T. Daniels Park Receives State Recognition

Greeneville’s newest park is already an award winning one.

The W.T. Daniels Park earned the Greeneville Parks & Recreation Department a “New Facility Award” for 2020 from the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association. The announcement of the award was made Thursday during the association’s annual conference, which was held virtually this year, according to a release from the organization.

W.T. Daniels Park opened in August with a ceremony in which the Greeneville mayor was surprised to learn the park was named for in his honor.

The park is located at 375 Whirlwind and features a 3-acre dog park, an 18-hole frisbee golf course and a nature walking trail.

Greeneville was presented the New Facility Award for projects with a budget of $500,000 or less. Kingsport Parks & Recreation was recognized with the award for parks with budgets over $500,000 for its Miracle Park.

The W.T. Daniels Park was constructed by the Greeneville Parks and Recreation Department and its establishment received support through grants from the Greene County Health Department and the Boyd Foundation.

Greeneville’s new park was also reclaimed land for public use that had once been the city landfill, which closed in the early 1970s. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation performed numerous ground checks and inspections at the site prior to, during and following construction to ensure the site was safe for a public park.

The Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association is a nonprofit organization with more than 1,700 members. Its mission is to support parks and recreation professionals in their efforts to achieve healthy, livable communities.

Concerns About US Nitrogen Raised At TDEC Public Meeting

Concerns about the US Nitrogen facility were voiced Thursday night during a virtual public hearing hosted by the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation.

Nearly 50 people participated, including 17 TDEC staff members and activists with questions about the plant on Pottertown Road in Midway.

US Nitrogen LLC, a subsidiary of Ohio-based Austin Powder Inc., produces liquid ammonium nitrate. It uses a pumping station and two 12-mile-long pipelines to draw water from the Nolichucky River for use in its manufacturing and cooling processes, then discharges water back into the river. The pumping station and pipelines are owned by the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County but leased to US Nitrogen.

The WebEx hearing Thursday night focused on reissuance of a US Nitrogen permit giving US Nitrogen permission to discharge treated effluent water from plant operations into the Nolichucky River. A separate five-year permit allowing US Nitrogen to draw water from the river was issued by TDEC in 2019.

TDEC staff listened to comments from the public about the permit on Thursday night.

“There were 30 members of the public in attendance and four submitted official comments during the event,” state agency spokeswoman Kim Schofinski said Friday in an email response to questions.

Park Overall, a Greene County resident and environmental activist, was encouraged by the virtual turnout for the meeting.

“A lot of people commented,” Overall said Friday in an email. “It was a great group of activists.”

Overall was one of those who submitted comments for TDEC to review.

An existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for US Nitrogen expired on Oct. 31. The NPDES permit allows individual discharges into the Nolichucky River. A new permit would allow the practice to continue through 2025.

Overall maintains that in 2017, discharges from US Nitrogen caused the death of wildlife on Pond Creek, a tributary of Lick Creek, which flows into the Nolichucky River.

US Nitrogen officials have maintained that all phases of the Midway operation are safe, including water quality and emissions.

US Nitrogen plant Manager Dylan Charles said in October that the wastewater permitting process is in accordance with TDEC and federal regulations.

“US Nitrogen remains committed to the health of the public and the environment. We operate under compliance to all permits issued to US Nitrogen by the governing agencies. The notification from TDEC is for a renewal of our existing NPDES permit which US Nitrogen has compliantly operated under for the last five years,” Charles said.

He said there are no changes to the conditions of the previous NPDES permit issued to US Nitrogen by TDEC five years ago.

“This is a standard process in the renewal cycle of the NPDES permit. There has never been, nor will there ever be, any public health hazards posed by the discharge of the waters back to the Nolichucky River,” Charles said.

US Nitrogen draws and then discharges millions of gallons of water into the Nolichucky River as part of its manufacturing process.

The company reported to TDEC that it pumped about 12 million gallons of water from the river for operational use. Malfunctioning equipment caused US Nitrogen to use an estimate rather than a specific figure for October, according to a report filed with TDEC.

Overall has been a persistent critic of US Nitrogen, which began production of ammonium nitrate in 2017. The plant was approved by Greene County commissioners in 2011 and construction on the facility, located on the 500-acre site, began in 2012.

The project was the subject of a number of lawsuits by landowners and others that have since been settled.

“By law, we are not allowed to issue a permit that would cause a condition of pollution in the receiving stream. Therefore, this discharge will have no impact on the Nolichucky River or the groundwater in the area,” Vojin Janjic, of the TDEC Division of Water Resources, wrote in an email to several members of the public prior to a previous reissuance of the permit four years ago.

In comments submitted to TDEC, Overall wrote that the project was “slammed in on a small impaired river with so much agriculture all the way down the river.”

“Serious USN violations persist” in Greene County, Overall wrote. Water usage from the river “is consistently wildly unstable,” she added.

“This company was brought in under the guise of economic development. The problem with that is these men gave our river water, for free, and no one asked us,” Overall wrote. “The purpose of TDEC is to protect our drinking water source, not aid (US Nitrogen). If TDEC is now the handmaiden of industry, they should have informed the public of their new Mission Statement.”

The last notice of violation issued by TDEC regarding US Nitrogen operations was in March 2019, for a discharge from the retention pond at the site in February 2019 relating to stormwater runoff.

Overall obtained a copy of the pilot agreement between US Nitrogen and the Greeneville-Greene County Industrial Development Board. It states that the citizens of Greene County “are responsible for any and all violations that (US Nitrogen) perpetrates,” Overall wrote in alleging continued “serious” regulatory violations.

“This document was never shared with the public,” she wrote.

Overall asked TDEC to disclose how much US Nitrogen has been fined for violations since 2013, and how much the company has paid.

She maintains there is “insufficient” water sampling analysis of cow ponds and other waterways near US Nitrogen.

TDEC “has blatantly violated (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) standards,” Overall charged.

“Who is going to clean up the drinking water up and down this river? So far, TDEC has shown no interest,” she wrote.

TDEC announced this month that it will do a “bioassessment” of the Nolichuckey River in the area of the plant’s discharge and intake pieplines.

“I am looking for redress. … I do not feel our concerns have been adequately addressed over the last decade,” Overall wrote.