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Increased testing leads to more coronavirus cases in Monroe

The amount of COVID-19 cases in Monroe County has climbed to around 30, largely due to an increase in testing.

From the end of April to May 4, the number of positive cases in the county nearly doubled from 15 to almost 30.

Monroe County Mayor Mitch Ingram stated the increase in the number of positive test results was brought about due to the increased number of people being tested for the virus.

“April 18, we had tested roughly 279 people at that point and that was the start of what we call the ‘testing surge’ across the state,” said Ingram.

“In two and half weeks we have doubled the number of tests to 500 tests in a two week period compared to what we have, so we are testing at a higher rate and I would say that we are still running around the 5% positive rate based on the number of tests.”

He noted the 5% rate is the same as what the county has been running prior to increased number of tests.

“We are testing by the masses now ... I think that is why we are seeing an increase not just in Monroe County but state and nationwide, too,” Ingram stated.

The increase in the number of people is not the result of any kind of “big breakout,” he noted.

“All of the cases are not even related,” Ingram noted. “They are just random single cases.”

Social distancing, along with use of personal protective equipment, is still recommended when in public.

“As the economy and businesses start to reopen, we are seeing more people get out and go to restaurants and businesses that were closed,” said Ingram. “So citizens should continue to use good hygiene and follow all of the CDC recommendations.”

He also asked that people support the local businesses that have already or plan to reopen.

“They need our support right now more than ever and we are going to have to be patient with them because they have guidelines that they have to follow,” he stated. “These guidelines include operating at 50% capacity, so that may require a little longer wait for a table or an appointment but we need to support our local businesses because they need us right now.”

Recovery court graduates celebrated during ceremony

Many facets of life have changed as the coronavirus pandemic has spread throughout the country and the court system is no different.

On Tuesday, May 5, the 10th Judicial District Recovery Court graduation ceremony was held at the Bradley County Judicial Complex in Cleveland with eight total graduates — two from Monroe County, one from McMinn County and five from Bradley County.

Normally the ceremony is held inside either the Bradley or McMinn county judicial complex, but this time it was a drive-through ceremony in order to comply with social distancing and mass gathering guidelines.

The ceremony was led by Monroe County Criminal Court Judge Andrew Freiberg, who initiated the program with a welcome.

“I wanted to start by giving a thought of the day,” said Freiberg. “I came across an article and it talked about our path to a broken life and it lists the seven distinct steps that we make, the choices we make, to a broken life.”

Freiberg stated the first step was dissatisfaction.

“Sometimes in life we are not satisfied with what we have,” he said. “Comfort can sometimes be the enemy of progress, but there is nothing wrong with wanting a better life for ourselves ... We just need to view our lives as the glass half full instead of half empty.”

He believes the second step is when people desire something that they know they shouldn’t want.

The third step is the bad decisions made from combining the first two steps.

“Make no mistake this isn’t something that happens to you,” said Freiberg. “It is something that we choose for ourselves.”

The “delight” felt from those actions are what causes people to continue and form habits, he explained.

“There was an adrenaline rush or a rush of some kind, however that doesn’t last forever,” said Freiberg.

He continued that from the rush came disillusionment.

“There becomes a disillusion where you think ‘I thought this would be an escape, I thought my life would be better if I had only pursued this disillusionment,” said Freiberg. “That leads to destruction. We start to lose the things that we took for granted that we were careless with so often in life.”

The final step is determination and that, he said, will decide which path a person follows.

“Do I want to continue down this path of destruction or am I determined to build, for myself, a better life,” said Freiberg. “It is such an honor to have all of our participants with us. You all embody step seven, that determination to forge, for yourself, a better life.”

James Maynard is the first of the Monroe citizens to be awarded during the graduation.

He held no unexcused absences during the course of the program, however he also had a rough start in the beginning, the judge noted.

Freiberg noted that Maynard held a positive attitude through the duration of his treatment and was even able to repair his relationship with his wife.

“James has been a role model for others in that he has been willing to talk about real life issues and struggles in group and in treatment,” said Freiberg. “He has shown great improvement in communication, in emotional health, spiritual health and mental health but more than anything, James has improved his relationship with others.”

The second and last graduate from Monroe was John Miller, who also held no unexcused absences.

Miller struggled in the beginning of the program by believing his way was the correct way and insisting on “getting his way” early in the treatment.

“He did not run away and grew stronger as he agreed to change his way of thinking and do things in a new way,” said Freiberg.

His adaptation to the program created a rapid growth and recovery.

“He never hesitated to ask for help or clarification if needed,” said Freiberg. “He has repaired all of his damaged relationships with family, loved ones and friends ... He is embracing his recovery and new life with courage and strong positive thoughts and emotions.”

Freiberg congratulated everyone for sticking through the program, especially given the issues, such as social distancing, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has been a difficult time. We have done surprisingly well under the circumstances as a program,” he said. “While health and safety is important, there is more to life than merely breathing. Many of our neighbors need mental health and addiction treatment. The pandemic has made such therapy difficult to obtain.”

The graduates had to adapt to video teleconference treatment and court during the last six weeks.

“It could have been very easy for these graduates to give up hope, but they never wavered,” he continued. “I’m so proud of them.”

Recovery Court is an approximately 18-month intensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people with substance abuse and/or mental health issues.

Instead of incarceration, the 10th Judicial District Recovery Court is an alternative court sentencing for certain individuals in Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.

There are four main phases of the program, as well as an aftercare program. In order to graduate, participants must meet a number of requirements, such as holding down a full-time job, completing a self-help program, passing regular drug screenings and also must pay a minimum of $1,000 in fines.

Large amount of suspected drugs found in Sweetwater homes

A Sweetwater man was arrested May 9 after a search of his house reportedly turned up various suspected narcotics, money and guns.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Narcotics Agent Dalton Rinehart said he and officers from the Sweetwater and Madisonville police departments and the 10th Judicial Drug Task Force served search warrants on homes on Inman Road and First Street, both belonging to Jamey Lynn Upton.

Rinehart said when they arrived at the First Street address, they saw Upton run into a garage on the property and lock himself in.

Rinehart said Upton eventually came out and a search of the houses turned up three large bags of suspected meth and 24 smaller bags of suspected meth.

A search of a Wave Runner allegedly turned up 15 grams of a brown, powder substance believed to be heroin. Rinehart also said two guns and several thousand dollars in cash were found on the two properties.

Upton, 43, was charged with possession of meth over 300 grams for resale, possession of Heroin for resale, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Despite coronavirus concerns, unemployment rises slightly

Unemployment rates for the month of March showed a slight increase compared to its previous month.

Despite predictions made from State of Tennessee Statistical Analyst Patrick Todd, who expected to see the unemployment rate increase due to COVID-19, the impact in March was only 0.1%, bringing the county to 4.2% from its 4.1% in February.

Though the rate did not increase by much from the previous month, it is still a notable difference from the March rate of 2019, which was 3.7%.

Effects from the coronavirus shutdown are being felt across the country in April rates that have been released, as the Associated Press reported Friday that “20.5 million jobs vanished in the worst monthly loss on record.”

“The unemployment report indicated that the vast majority of April’s job losses — roughly 90% — are considered temporary, a result of businesses that were forced to suddenly close but hope to reopen and recall their laid-off workers,” the AP also noted.

According to the State of Tennessee, the national unemployment rate in March was 4.4% — up 0.9% from February — and the AP reported Friday that the national rate had grown to 14.7% in April.

The state also reported that more than 81,000 new unemployment claims have been filed statewide in the past two weeks, with 3,787 new claims filed in the Southeast region the week of May 2.

In March, much of the State of Tennessee followed the trend of Monroe County, as the state rate rose a tenth of a percent to 3.5% for the month.

The rate declined in March in 61 counties, rose in 18 and held steady in 16, leaving the rate less than 5% in 68 counties, between 5% and 10% in 27 counties and above 10% in none.

Around the area for the month of March, Blount County had a 0.3% decrease giving it a rate of 3.5%, Loudon County increased by 0.1% to 3.8%, McMinn also witnessed a 0.1% increase giving it a rate of 4.2%, and Polk County saw a decrease by 0.3% giving the county a rate of 4.2%.