Eight COVID-19 cases were reported in Greene County during the 31 days of May. The 31 days in July are a sharp contrast as the number of new virus cases jumped by more than 250.
The result has been a different “new normal” than the one Greene Countians were getting used to as the month started with the continuing reopening of the economy as well as the renewing of many activities such as community events and in-person church services.
Now, a facial mask mandate is in place from local government with many businesses and offices also requiring facial coverings for their customers and clients. Visitation restrictions have returned to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals. Public areas such as parks are much quieter as playgrounds have closed again.
Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison issued an executive order beginning July 15 that citizens and visitors to the county are to wear facial masks or coverings while in public buildings such as retail stores and offices and in large gatherings of people. Health officials have recommended facial coverings be worn in public to reduce the spread of the virus.
“With the number of case increases, it is certainly causing people to pause and think that the virus needs to be taken a lot more seriously,” he said Friday. “People are really trying to do what they think is right. I am seeing more people wearing masks, and that is a good thing. Hopefully, we will see the results of mask wearing very, very soon.”
Due to the fact that it can take multiple days for COVID-19 symptoms to appear, some of the large increases at the end of the month can be traced to people taking vacations or the Fourth of July activities, Morrison said. The effect of facial mask wearing will hopefully begin to appear in a couple of weeks.
20 NEW CASES
Greene County ended July on Friday with 20 new cases, bringing its total count to 344 since the pandemic began, according to the daily update from the Tennessee Department of Health. That is 259 more than the 85 cases reported for the county on July 1.
Friday’s new cases were the second-highest daily jump in the county since the pandemic began. The biggest jump was recorded last Sunday when 23 new cases were recorded.
Active cases in the county now total 206, up 15 from Thursday, according to the state report. Five more people were added to the recovered list by the state, bringing that total up to 133.
Another Greene Countian was also hospitalized due to the illness in the 24-hour period covered in Friday’s report, according to the state data. Twenty-two local people have required hospital care for the virus since the pandemic began.
Five people in Greene County have died from the virus. Three of those deaths occurred in July.
Statewide, 3,088 new cases were reported by the Department of Health on Friday. Tennessee has had 105,959 COVID-19 cases during the pandemic. There are 38,542 active cases across the state.
The number of deaths increased by 27, bringing the total to 1,060. Listed as recovered are 66,357 statewide.
GOVERNMENT, BUSINESS CHANGES
One of the major changes in July in regard to local COVID response was the executive order requiring the wearing of facial coverings.
Leading to that decision was not only the increase of cases, but “alarming’ information from Ballad Health about the upward trend of cases and discussions with the mayors of Sullivan and Washington counties about their planned mask mandates, Morrison said.
A face mask mandate was issued in Sullivan County on July 13, Washington County’s began July 14, and Greene County’s followed on July 15. Washington County has the most active cases in the region with 688, according to Friday’s report from the state. Sullivan County has 253 people currently with COVID-19.
Morrison said he has received much positive feedback about the mask mandate, but not all have been supportive as some people do see it as an infringement on their rights.
Also on June 13, the Town of Greeneville returned to the first phase of its reopening plan, closing the offices inside Town Hall to in-person traffic while continuing service to the public from those offices by phone or through email. Playgrounds inside the town’s parks, the EastView Recreation Center and the splash pad there also closed.
Town officials have expressed their support for the mandate for facial coverings, and town employees are to wear masks when meeting face-to-face with members of the public. Other public entities, such as Greeneville Light & Power System, are asking visitors to offices to wear facial coverings.
Days after the local mask mandate was issued, several national retailers, such as Walmart and CVS, announced that their customers across the country would be required to wear facial coverings while shopping, which was soon followed by similar announcements from regional grocery chains, such as Food City. Ingles and Publix.
Lobbies at most of the local financial institutions have also closed in the past few weeks as case numbers have increased.
Wearing a facial covering is an adjustment and something that people are getting used to doing, Morrison said. Sometimes, it is easy for putting on a mask to slip someone’s mind during a busy day, he said, recalling that he had forgotten a few days ago to put his on before entering a local restaurant before seeing a sign on the door about wearing a mask. He then returned to his vehicle to get his mask before entering.
National and local health officials recommend people wear facial coverings whenever they are in public. “Wearing facial masks, continuing to social distance and frequently washing hands are efforts all of us can take to limit the spread of the virus,” said Eric Deaton, chief operating officer at Ballad Health and leader of its coronavirus response team. “No one is exempt from this virus as a new disease, which is why we need to come together and take precautions to protect our community.”
CARE FACILITIES, SCHOOLS
Challenges the virus causes in protecting the youngest and oldest and most vulnerable in the community were also evident in July as school leaders grappled with how to open for the fall semester, and suspension of visitation went back into effect for nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Administrators in both local systems and members of their respective school boards unveiled opening plans during the month with the school boards having called sessions regarding their plans for the fall.
The Greeneville School System announced earlier this week that it will open with fully online operations for the fall semester in August. If the situation improves, a decision will be announced by Aug. 17 about possibly reopening schools for in-person instruction Aug. 24.
The Greene County Board of Education is meeting Saturday morning to discuss its reopening plans.
The school systems are following similar guidelines about whether to allow in-person instruction based on local coronavirus counts. Both sets of guidelines call for online instruction when numbers indicate substantial community spread of the virus as defined by average daily increases for a 14-day period.
Numbers, including the daily average of new cases over a two-week period, are also a guideline used by nursing homes and assisted living facilities to adjust visitation policies. The state has recommended that long term care facilities not allow visitors if their communities are averaging more than 10 new cases per day for a two week period. Earlier this week, the county crossed that threshold.
For example, at Morning Pointe of Greeneville, no outside visitors are allowed for residents through Aug. 14 and only trips for essential medical appointments are being made, according to a representative. As national and state guidelines allowed some visitation with protective measures, Morning Pointe started using a special visitation booth to allow people to visit loved ones in a way that protected them, their loved ones and others at the facility.
Durham-Hensley Nursing Home had also established a visitation booth, but it too suspended visits to residents a few weeks ago due to the increase of cases, according to a representative.
As virus numbers have increased, Ballad Health put a more restrictive visitation policy into place. Visitation hours are now restricted to between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. and only one designated visitor is allowed per non-coronavirus patient, except for pediatric patients for whom both parents are permitted. No visitors are allowed for coronavirus patients, except in end-of-life situations.