BY JASMINE WILLIAMS
MARTIN – (September 4) – Members of Governor Bill Lee’s Unified Command Group visited Weakley County Friday, September 4, 2020 to discuss COVID-19 with officials from across the county. The meeting was held in UT Martin’s Watkins auditorium and included information regarding the most recent data for the state and county about COVID-19. Officials and others in attendance were given the opportunity to ask questions of the Unified Command Group.
The group planned to prepare a report to take back to Governor Lee after the meeting.
Two members of the Command Group who were present included Chief of Staff Scott Brower with the office of the governor and epidemiologist Jane Yackley with the Tennessee Department of Health.
Brower said the Command Group is traveling each county of the state in each county to discuss how Tennesseans have been affected by novel coronavirus.
Yackley explained how to best interpret the data provided by the state daily on the Department of Health’s website.
Yackley highlighted two COVID-related stories after surveys were conducted since the pandemic began earlier this year. One highlighted crew members of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after an outbreak occurred in April. A survey was conducted of those who did and did not test positive for the coronavirus. The survey found those who increased hand washing, wore face masks and avoided common areas saw a sharp decline of contracting COVID-19 than those who did not.
Another survey was conduced after two hair stylists in Missouri worked while displaying COVID-19 symptoms. It was found that due to a city mandate, all clients and both hair stylists wore face coverings. Also found was that all clients who came into contact with the hair stylists did not contract the coronavirus.
Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum said mask shaming is not something he wants any member of the community to face reiterating that no one should feel ashamed for wearing a mask. Brower responded, saying it has been proven time and time again across the country that wearing masks results in lower numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Yackley also spoke about reported COVID-related deaths. She said many who have underlying illnesses who die from the coronavirus result from COVID causing further complications with their health. She gave an example that if someone dies after surgery for cancer due to an infection; they died from an infection caused by a cancer-related surgery. She said this is very similar to how those who are dying from cancer with other health issues, are being recorded as dying from COVID-19 that caused further complications to occur.
Bynum asked the representatives about those who live outside of the county and attend college in Weakley County, where their case is counted if they test positive. Yackley said the case number will only go to the county where the citizen is quarantined. If a student stays at UT Martin, the case is added to Weakly County’s total. If the student returns home and quarantines in another county, the case added to that county’s number.
Bynum also asked about the online dashboard being created to report students who have tested positive for COVID-19. The Command Group said almost all universities have created a dashboard with the most current numbers of students who have tested positive, including UT Martin.
The mayor also asked when should a community should look into not renewing its public mask mandate. Brower said it is being recommended that a mask mandate should not expire until after a proven vaccine has been made, distributed and taken by community members.
Yackley said the state has made no guidelines for how long facemasks in communities are needed, but twearing masks are proven to work to decrease the spread of COVID-19 for those who utilize masks, along with social distancing and handwashing.
Director of Schools Randy Frazier asked the Command Group questions about returning to school for those who are quarantined and requested consistant messaging. He also saidt there are some in the county who do not have access to COVID-19-related information the state releases online. Brower responded the management of information is important to the state and having accurate and easily-accessible information is one of the state’s top priorities.
Yackley noted that how long someone is taken out of the public setting to ensure that no one contracts COVID-19 through he/she is important. According to state and federal guidelines, the person in quarantine should show no symptoms and feel as healthy as they did before contracting COVID-19 and stay in contact with their health department or health care provider for further information.
One member of the community asked if all people who are counted as positive for COVID-19 were also being tested. The community member said he knew of someone asked to quarantine after being around someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, but were told they did not have to be tested. The Command Group members said if someone was in close contact to COVID-19, but did not show symptoms, he/she was asked to quarantine and not be tested until symptoms begin to show.
The Command Group was asked when schools in the county can expect more masks to be sent for students to wear, which Brower responded more should be sent to schools at some point, but a date is not known.
Before the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Bynum reported Weakley County still does not have enough Personal Protective Equipment for first responders.
Bynum also asked the Command Group members what is their biggest concern regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
They responded the attention span of the country has reached a point where everyone wants to go back to normal even though the virus is still spreading.