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Ingram announces against mandating masks for citizens

Monroe County Mayor Mitch Ingram has decided not to mandate the use of masks while out in public.

According to a press release sent to The Advocate & Democrat, Ingram has made the decision not to act on the authority granted by Gov. Bill Lee in Executive Order 54. The order gives county mayors the right to mandate the use of masks by citizens while they are out in public.

“We feel wearing a mask in public is a decision and choice to be made by each individual, just as the owners and managers of businesses within the county have the choice to require masks to receive service in their establishment,” Ingram said via the release. “However, for the safety and health of our loved ones, neighbors and visitors, it is necessary for each citizen and visitor to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

During the month of June, the number of positive cases increased by 67.

“This is a 103% increase in cases in just 30 days and we feel a significant increase, such as this, is cause for concern and should serve as a reminder to take this pandemic seriously,” Ingram continued in the release. “Due to rapid transmission throughout the country, state and county it is of the most importance that we as citizens of Monroe County become more unified in the fight to protect ourselves, our families and our most vulnerable population against COVID-19.”

Continuing social distancing, proper hand washing and the use of masks when in public are some of the things to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Masks can be obtained for free from the health department.

According to the institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, 24,171 deaths could be avoided in the United States by Oct. 1, 2020 if 95% of people wore masks in public.

“With knowledge such as this, it is strongly encouraged that those who can wear a mask do so,” the release stated. “If you have an underlying condition that makes you more susceptible, please take the necessary precautions to keep yourself as safe as possible.”

Ingram believes each citizen has more responsibility to protect themselves from the virus as more businesses begin to open and schools begin to start back.

“Wearing a mask protects the people we may come in contact with. Wearing a mask is caring for your community and your loved ones,” said Ingram.

“As your mayor, I pledge to lead by example moving forward by wearing my mask when social distancing cannot be accomplished. I challenge each of you to do the same. We can slow the spread of COVID-19 together.”

Sweetwater High student passes away in traffic accident

A Sweetwater High School student passed away in a traffic accident early Thursday morning.

Emily Corona, 16, was on the way home with a friend when the car accident occurred, according to a GoFundMe page created by Sweetwater girls’ soccer coach Mallory Gruenenfelder. The page states Corona and a friend were coming back from picking up food.

Corona was a rising junior and soccer player at Sweetwater.

“There are no adequate words to describe the person Emily was and how tragic her loss is,” the GoFundMe page reads. “She had the most contagious smile and laugh, and was kind to everyone she met. She always had a positive attitude and outlook on life. She was a beloved daughter, a loving sister, and a loyal teammate and friend.

“To know Emily was to love her, as she greeted everyone she met with her beautiful smile and friendly personality. She was always making others laugh and was truly a joy to be around.”

Sweetwater Co-Athletic Director Jeremy Henderson offered his condolences for Corona’s passing.

“Heartbroken to learn of the tragic situation with losing a student-athlete at Sweetwater High School in Emily Corona,” Henderson said in a statement to The Advocate & Democrat. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends.”

Gruenenfelder also expressed her feelings regarding Corona’s passing.

“There are never the right words to say when someone is taken from this earth too soon,” Gruenenfelder wrote in a Facebook post, “and it’s nearly impossible to find the right words when describing someone as amazing as Emily Corona. Anyone that knew Emily knew how funny, kind, beautiful and full of life she was.

“I have had the privilege of knowing Emily as her coach for only a few short years, but felt like I knew her much longer. I will always remember how positive and happy she was. Emily had the most contagious laugh and the ability to make everyone around her feel her happiness and zest for life.

“I am absolutely heartbroken for everyone that was blessed enough to know her, because to know Emily was to absolutely love her. Please keep her friends and family in your thoughts as they go through this devastating loss. Rest easy, Emily. I love you and will miss you so much.”

Arrangements for Corona were set for Saturday through Tuesday.

Along with Gruenenfelder’s GoFundMe page, Sweetwater High School hosted a donation gathering for Corona’s family on Tuesday. Donations will be accepted.

Monroe graduations set to be held with safety protocols in place

Plans are currently underway for graduation ceremonies to be held at the end of the month.

Monroe County Schools Director Dr. DeAnna McClendon stated the graduation ceremonies are expected to take place on the football fields of each high school.

“We will practice social distancing and keep the chairs six feet apart and families and graduates will be asked to wear a mask,” said McClendon. “The students will be asked to wear a mask until they are in position, then they will get a chance to walk across the stage.”

They hope to keep the ceremony as short as possible to limit the amount of exposure people have to others, however the schools have yet to decide on an official start time for the ceremonies.

Family members of graduates will also be encouraged to practice social distancing.

“The parents will be on the bleachers and we have a capacity for each of those bleachers so families will sit together, but they will have to sit six feet away from another family,” she said. “We are still working out plans with principals to decide where to put other people once we reach capacity on the bleachers.”

She noted the schools are currently trying to predict the amount of guests who will attend by calculating the number of graduating students from each school.

“We need to know the number of students who are actually going to participate,” McClendon stated. “Then we can determine how many family members will be attending.”

Tickets may also not be available for some of the schools depending on the amount of students who are graduating.

“Whether or not a school will distribute tickets for graduation will really be determined by the amount of graduates they have,” McClendon stated. “If there are a small number of graduates then tickets won’t be necessary since this will be determined by our capacity.”

Hand sanitizer will also be available in portable stations during the ceremony.

Sweetwater High School’s graduation has been scheduled to take place on Thursday, July 30.

Sequoyah High School’s graduation will be on Friday, July 31, and Tellico Plains High School’s graduation is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 1.

Monroe County Schools plan return this fall with virtual option

Monroe County Schools plan to return to school as normal when the year begins on Aug. 7.

According to the district guide to reopening schools, available on the Monroe County Schools website, the decision was made after “careful consideration” of all factors and with the input and guidance from the State Department of Education, local health department and advisory panels consisting of teachers, parents, students and community members.

“It is the recommendation of the Reopening Task Force that schools open on time and operate according to Yellow Level Guidelines until conditions warrant a change, while being prepared to flip the switch at any time,” according to the task force documents.

The level system is comprised of three color categories, with Green level being all clear, Yellow level to continue operations with precautions and Red Level to stop operations of the school in person.

“We looked at the plans from several different school districts to see what we needed in our plan or what we liked in other peoples’ plan,” said Monroe County Schools Director Dr. DeAnna McClendon. “The biggest thing that we did to get the most feedback was a community survey.”

According to McClendon, the survey resulted in 61% of those who filled out the survey wanting school to return to normal with 24% wanting a hybrid of returning to school and distance learning. The remaining 15% of participants wanted full virtual learning.

McClendon noted that any parent who does not feel comfortable sending their child back to school will have the option of virtual classes.

For those who will be attending in person, there will be numerous precautions in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“One of the things that families wanted was regular disinfection of common areas,” said McClendon. “They also wanted us to perform temperature checks, not let students share supplies, limit visitors to the school and practice social distancing. So we will be doing all of that.”

A few of the common areas outside of the classroom consist of playgrounds, the cafeteria and buses.

“The playgrounds will be cleaned after one class is finished and before another one goes out,” McClendon stated. “The schools will be able to individualize their plans for the cafeteria that will vary on the size of the school.”

Students who ride the bus will be asked to wear a mask while in the vehicle.

Social distancing while on the bus will also be in practice with family members (siblings) sharing seats.

A quarantine area will also be established for students who may potentially be at risk.

“Students will have their temperature taken before entering the building,” McClendon said. “If a student who had just gotten off the bus (for example) had a high temperature then we will put that student in the ‘quarantine’ area until their parent can pick them up.”