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Lee Orders Schools Closed Through April 24; Local Systems Developing Plans

School systems across the state heard Tuesday that Governor Bill Lee now recommends they remain closed through April 24.

Both the Greene County and Greeneville School systems plan to continue meal services during the closure and continue working on plans for online instruction.

Greene County Director of Schools David McLain sent a message Tuesday evening to county school students and families addressing the extended closure and changes to meal services.

McLain said that in addition to the meal services offered beginning Monday by the county school system’s food service Chartwells, the school system is adding meal sites at Baileyton Elementary School, 6535 Horton Highway, and McDonald Elementary School, 8120 McDonald Road in Mohawk.

The operating hours at the added meal sites, beginning Wednesday, will be 11 a.m.-noon.

Hours of operation at the originally designated sites South Greene High School, North Greene High School, Chuckey-Doak Middle School and Mosheim Elementary School will be 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m., also beginning Wednesday.

Addressing the attending school board members at the Greeneville City Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Greeneville City Director of Schools Steve Starnes praised all parties involved with the city schools’ meal services, which began at Greeneville High School and Hal Henard Elementary School on Monday.

Starnes said 332 children received meals on Monday, and on Tuesday the school system distributed two days worth of meals to decrease exposure, serving a total of 1,748 meals.

On the subject of continuing learning during the extended closure, Starnes said the city school system is “well positioned to continue learning for our students.”

Starnes said the school system is working on finalizing a learning plan for the closure and mentioned the possibility of online tutoring services, among other possibilities. He said the school system will use a variety of approaches to see what works best, and that he hopes to release a finalized learning plan later this week.

McLain said students and their families should watch for more messages from him later in the week regarding online learning.

Both local school systems are using remaining snow days for the closure through Monday, March 30.

Local Volunteers Creating Face Masks For Medical Community

A growing number of volunteers during the novel coronavirus pandemic are sharing with others while sheltering in place by creating face masks to be used by health care providers and their patients.

One group is coordinated by Jana Wills and her husband, Mark Wills, dean of the Niswonger Campus of Walters State Community College in Greeneville.

Jana Wills, a Greenville Middle School teacher, said she got the idea to create the masks after seeing a post by a respiratory therapist in an Oklahoma hospital who called attention to the national shortage of protective medical equipment. Like-minded volunteers set to work creating a variety of designs that can be worn over the face as a protective measure.

“This is a whole community effort. I’ve got all kinds of ladies helping me with this project,” Wills said Monday.

“This is a group for people in Greeneville and Greene County to network to sew face masks for our community health care workers and their patients,” Mark and Jana Wills wrote on a Facebook page created by Mark Wills called “The Greeneville Tailor Shop,” which can be accessed at https://www.facebook.com/groups/3071248132905713/.

Mark Wills said the name of the group is a play on words referring to President Andrew Johnson, who called Greeneville home and ran a tailor shop before achieving national prominence.

“Hi everyone, my wife and I launched our own little seamstress shop where we are making face masks for our community. The Greene County EMA office is the collection point for all these donations,” Mark Wills wrote. “I will be adding links to patterns, video instructions, etc. here in hope that the project can continue to grow.”

The Facebook page has a single focus: “Make Masks! Now get the dust off your machines and start sewing,” Wills wrote.

Between 300 and 500 masks had been created by volunteers by Tuesday, Jana Wills said.


The demand for the masks among healthcare workers and others in contact with the public during the pandemic is great, the Wills’ said.

“Our community has stepped forward,” said Jana Wills, who learned there is “an urgent need” locally for health care workers to have protective gear.

“A lot of women who said they haven’t sewn in a long time are trying and finding out they can do it. They’re pulling out their machines and getting them dusted off,” Wills said.

“I just learned how to sew Saturday. It’s actually kind of therapeutic,” Mark Wills said.

Some of the cotton masks have elastic ties, while others have cloth ties. Some people are obtaining materials to make the masks, while others are using repurposed materials like dish towels and pillowcases to create the face masks.

“These are meant to be taken home and washed and reused,” Jana Wills said.

Patterns for the masks and instructions on how to participate are being posted on the Facebook page, Mark Wills said.

The masks are being distributed to nurses and other hospital employees, the county Office of Emergency Management, city and county school employees who are distributing food, and other health care providers.

The medical equipment shortage remains acute across the country as manufacturers ramp up to supply health care providers with the items they need.

The Greene County effort “is basically a band-aid until they get the stuff they need,” Mark Wills said.

One delivery of masks was made Tuesday to the Greene County Office of Emergency Management.

“We were very blessed again this morning to receive 12 more masks at the EMA Office from Jeff and Lisa Reaves. Thank you, both,” Emergency Management Director Heather Sipe wrote on “The Greeneville Tailor Shop” Facebook page.

“We already have and will continue to get these distributed to our response and health personnel in our community. Many requests are coming in and there are many out there sewing and making deliveries. Thank you, Jana and Mark Wills, for overseeing the project and keeping everyone informed and encouraged,” Sipe wrote.

The mission of the group is to “get masks to healthcare workers, public servants, nursing homes, and hospitals that needs them in Greeneville and Greene County through the EMA Office,” according to a post on the Facebook page.

Jana Wills said she has been contacted by people from other counties offering to help. She advises residents of other counties to check with their emergency management agency to see what is needed in their area.

OTHERS PARTICIPATINGLynette Ricker is among those making cotton masks as part of another Greene County group. The masks are available online for $5 each, which covers the cost of supplies, she said.

The masks are about 3-1/2 inches wide and cover the chin and nose, with elastic to go around the ears, said Ricker, a skilled crafts enthusiast.

“A friend of mind told me she has heard they are getting hard to find and she said, ‘You need to make some,’” Ricker said Monday.

Assisting Ricker are housemates Beverly Ricker, Kim Rohrer and Nancy Helton.

“Up to now, we have made about 150,” she said.

Ricker said the masks are being sold online and through word of mouth.

“We’ve been making some and selling some, and if some folks really need some, we make sure they have them,” Ricker said. “We’ve delivered some to people who are not able to get out.”

Some mask buyers ask for a specific type of print.

“(The cost) just helps with the supplies,” Ricker said.

Like others in Greene County, Ricker and her housemates are taking recommendations by Gov. Bill Lee and other officials seriously, even when delivering face masks.

“We try to stay in as much as possible and practice social distancing,” Ricker said.

The group coordinated by Mark and Jana Wills anticipates remaining busy for some time to come.

“Hopefully, they will get their (medical) supplies soon,” Mark Wills said.

5th COVID-19 Case Confirmed In Greene County; Ballad Proceeding With Testing Plans

Greene County has its fifth confirmed case of coronavirus, and Tusculum University has announced that five of its students have tested positive for the virus.

The new case was reported as part of the daily update provided by the Tennessee Department of Health about confirmed cases statewide Tuesday afternoon.

In the region, the Greene County case was the second new one reported by the State Department of Health. An additional case was reported in Washington County.

Tusculum University released a statement Tuesday evening that it had learned that “five students of ours have tested positive for the coronavirus. None of these students has been on the campus for several days. We are heartened the initial reports we have received indicate students are doing well.”

It is not clear if the five Tusculum students cases account for all the Greene County cases. At least three have been confirmed to be.

Tusculum has closed its residence halls. The statement said that with the amount of time since students have left campus, the university encourages its students, faculty and staff to continue precautions to reduce their risk and to continue to practice social distancing.

Earlier in the day, Ballad Health officials had reported 14 confirmed cases in the region it serves. This was prior to the state’s daily update and included the previously known four cases in Greene County and six in Washington County as well as two in Sullivan County and two in Lee County in Southwest Virginia.

According to the State Department of Health report, there were 667 confirmed cases of the virus in Tennessee as of Tuesday afternoon, with two deaths reported thus far. Davidson County, which includes Nashville, has the most cases, 183. Shelby County, which includes Memphis and other small municipalities, has seen a large increase in cases in recent days with 99 now recorded.

Health officials have indicated that the number of confirmed cases may go up as more people are tested and more tests become available and sites are opened.

Ballad Health officials reported Tuesday that the system is making strides toward have on-site analysis of tests at two facilities, accelerating the turnaround for results.

Several testing sites are now open in Northeast Tennessee. Current testing locations include Greeneville Community Hospital East locally as well as East Tennessee State University Health and Franklin Woods Community Hawkins County Memorial and Indian Path Community hospitals in the region, according to the Tennessee State Department of Health website.

In a media briefing Tuesday, Ballad Health Executive Chairman, President and CEO Alan Levine said equipment should be installed and adaptations made to the labs at Johnson City and Holston Valley medical centers in the next few weeks to be able to analyze tests to determine whether individuals have the coronavirus.

“We will have the capacity to do 50 tests per facility once we get the equipment in place,” Levine said. “Once it is up and running, this equipment will allow us to have a turnaround time of several hours for results rather than the five to seven days as we are currently seeing.”

Tests conducted locally or in the region by either Ballad Health or other facilities have been sent to the labs through the State Department of Health or private labs for analysis.

Levine thanked ETSU Health, Holston Medical Group and physicians groups who have been testing in addition to Ballad Health facilities, which has helped make the testing process manageable for all.

“Community support has been really phenomenal since this began,” Levine said.

Streamworks, an educational organization in Kingsport, is to use its 3-D printer to product face shields for Ballad Health facilities, for example, he said.

Using plastic donated by Eastman, Streamworks will be able to produce about 500 face shields a day, Levine said. Ballad Health has also purchased two more 3-D printers for Streamworks to use.

In addition, the state has directed ETSU to use its 3-D printing capabilities to produce face shields, and Ballad Health will most likely receive some of them, he said.

Community response to requests for blood donations has been tremendous, Levine said.

“As a system, we were at a critical level in our blood supplies about a week ago,” he continued. “When we put out the call for blood donations, people have responded. We are not where we want to be in regards to the supply but things are definitely better than they were for the whole region.”

With the postponement of elective surgical procedures instituted last week by Ballad Health, facilities throughout the system have capacity to treat coronavirus cases as they arise, Levine said.

“Our ICU (intensive care unit) capacity is as good as it has ever been,” he said. Systemwide, there are 276 ICU beds with 62 available now, he added.

In the most serious cases of coronavirus, patients may have difficulty breathing or the illness may result in pneumonia. To treat those cases, Ballad Health has 156 ventilators and 27 pediatric ventilators currently available, he said.

There are also 130 older ventilators in stock that can be used if necessary and 61 ventilators used for transport that could also be utilized, Levine said. “From a capacity standpoint, we are in good shape with the ventilators.”

Eric Deaton, chief operating officer for Ballad Health, thanked the public for its efforts thus far to take precautions to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. He encouraged that people remain vigilant in washing their hands frequently, staying at home when possible and social distancing when they go out.

Limiting the spread of the virus will make the cases that do require treatment and hospitalization more manageable for the health system as it also balances providing other needed medical care, and would not overwhelm the system as a large spike in cases would, according to Ballad Health officials.

Most people who contract COVID-19 will become only mildly or moderately ill, according to health experts. However, for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, it can cause serious illness and can be fatal.

Ballad Health asks anyone concerned they may have the virus to call the system’s Nurse Connect line at (833) 822-5523 to be screened for possible testing. The line is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Levine said that 7,500 calls have been received to the Nurse Connect line.