Multiple local and statewide officials ranging from school leaders to health care professionals met at Sequoyah High School last Thursday to discuss the COVID-19 virus.
Their conversations covered both the state in general and the local region and what kind of an affect the virus is having.
The meeting was initiated by Monroe County Mayor Mitch Ingram, who introduced the two guest speakers — Scott Brower, who is the chief of staff for the COVID-19 Unified Command from the governor’s office, along with State Epidemiologist Dr. John Dunn.
“This is around the 40th or so county we have visited across the state over the last five months,” Brower said. “We try to learn everything that is happening in your community and also provide some assistance and information.”
Dunn spoke about the ratings of COVID across the state since its arrival in 2020.
“When COVID first arrived in the state, we began to see some consistency in our rise in patients,” Dunn said. “In May and June we saw an increase in COVID patients, which peaked in July, and since late October, early November we have seen up to about 10% to 11% of patients coming to emergency rooms with a COVID-like illness.”
He noted health care professionals have witnessed an increase in COVID cases since the start of winter.
“We are not seeing what we want to see, we are not seeing a decline in cases. We are continuing to see an increase in cases,” Dunn stated. “The increase is showing for the last part of 2020 and into 2021.”
Brower stated they have spoken to leading health professionals about the virus on a national level.
“One of the things that absolutely jumps out as we are heading into the colder months ... As the weather is driving us inside our behaviors should alter if we expect to gather in a safe manner,” Brower expressed. “We can’t meet the same group sizes inside that we could outside and that is what they (national health professionals) have seen happen. Cases have just exploded in Wisconsin where people were driven inside due to the cold weather earlier in the year and they are on top of each other without altering their behavior.”
Brower also spoke about the effects of COVID fatigue that is affecting the populace at large.
“People are tired of this, but at the end of the day it is still here among us,” said Brower. “It is the reality of today and we have to live with that or you are going to see how precarious this situation is right now.”
One of their major concerns for the virus is how hospitals and other health care providers will be affected during flu season.
“One of our major concerns during this time of year is the addition of influenza,” Dunn noted. “Every year, (influenza) causes a number of hospitalizations and patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds. We know that has the potential to happen again this year and further tax hospital systems in terms of their ability to provide that type of intensive care for patients with a severe disease.”
Brower stated another disruption caused by COVID is the delay of elective surgeries that he believes could be life saving or extending due to hospitals needing the staff and room for COVID patients.
“It is not just about COVID, it is affecting everything that is going on inside of the hospital systems, such as treating patients who have been in car accidents, heart attacks and everything else,” Brower expressed. “This virus is having a significant impact on the welfare of all of us right now.”
Dillan and Cassidy Mills are the proud parents of Selene Maria Rose Mills, who was the first baby to be born in the county for 2021.
According to Dillan Mills, he and his wife did not expect their daughter to be the first baby born in the county for the new year.
“It actually surprised us, we didn’t expect it at all,” Dillan said. “The nurse came in and told us and we thought ‘that’s cool.’ We are pretty excited.”
The family is from Loudon and gave birth to their daughter at the Sweetwater Hospital on Jan. 4.
Selene was born healthy and came in 8 pounds and 8.4 ounces.
“We wanted to do unique names, so with our first child we named her Kaia and we wanted to pick something that wasn’t heard often,” Dillan said. “We were looking at names and we found Selene and we liked that one. Our first child, her name means ‘water goddess’ in Native American and we found that Selene means ‘moon goddess’ and we liked it.”
Dillan Mills was a resident of Madisonville before moving to Loudon. His wife had lived in Loudon for most of her life, according to Dillan.
“She and I met because we worked in the same shopping center,” Dillan recalled. “I was working at Little Ceasars and she was working at Food City.”
Following discussions of the virus during the COVID-19 meeting at Sequoyah High School last Thursday, guest speakers, Scott Brower and Dr. John Dunn spoke about the vaccines.
Brower is the chief of staff of the COVID-19 Unified Command and Dunn is the state epidemiologist.
Their conversations surrounded the COVID-19 vaccines that have been release and the impact they can have across the state and in the local region.
According to Dunn, the current vaccinations will still work against the new “U.K. strain” of the virus.
“Viruses change and we expect that,” Dunn said. “Bacteria and viruses change, they have mutations and change at certain rate.”
He noted the new strain of the virus mutated it to become more transmissible, but the effects aren’t any worse than the current strain that they have grown accustomed to.
“The (current) vaccines cover those expected areas and the virus will not break through those vaccines,” Dunn stated. “The current vaccines are Pfizer and Moderna. They have both been authorized by the FDA. The vaccine is giving yourself the recipe for the spiked protein of the coronavirus that allows your body to recognize the virus and fight it off.”
Dunn noted that, along with the two current vaccines, four more are currently being developed and will be released in the future.
“Five of the vaccines (including the two that we have) requires two doses,” Dunn noted. “There is one that is a one dose vaccine, so there are more vaccines in the pipeline that will give us more of a supply as we get further into 2021.”
A question was presented by Brower during the topic of the vaccinations that questioned if the the vaccinations received will last through a person’s lifetime or if it would need to be administered annually, such as the flu shot.
“We don’t really know right now but I think we are aiming for an annual vaccine right now,” expressed Dunn. “There are other coronaviruses out there that we see every year during cold and flu season and we don’t immunize those, so we just don’t know what is going to happen with the virus over time.”
He believes they will continue to produce a vaccine supply so they could administer vaccines in the future on a needed basis.
Dunn also mentioned the current known side effects of the vaccine.
“The side effects are kind of routine as your body is having an immune response with headache, fatigue, tiredness and soreness at the site of the injection,” Dunn said. “Those usually go away after one or two days. We have also seen people who have had an allergy to the vaccine and we watched them for a period of time and, so far, we have only had mild reactions.”
Current information on the virus as well as vaccine information can be obtained by going to covid19.tn.gov
Some places have received more vaccines than others in the state due to supply, the officials noted.
“There are counties that we know are distressed but the rest of the vaccine is distributed per capita, so the places with the highest populations,” Dunn noted. “We are trying to be as equitable as possible, obviously there are large metropolitan areas that receive more of the vaccine because they have a larger population so they are the first to get allocated the vaccine ... When we were in the planning phases we didn’t focus on how much vaccine was available because that is very much in flux, we don’t know when vaccines will be available we are going by a week to week basis.”
Dunn is holding high hopes for the end of the month of January.
“We are hoping that by the end of January, our most vulnerable population (across the state) will be protected by the vaccine,” expressed Dunn. “Right now most of our counties are in the 1a2 phase with the focus on health care workers and simultaneous age criteria of 75 and older.”
The local area’s national representative added his voice to the dispute over November’s presidential election results.
In an interview with The Advocate & Democrat on Monday, Jan. 4, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) confirmed that he planned to vote against certification of the Electoral College votes last week.
“There were substantial irregularities in several states that had a number of causes,” Fleischmann said. “Procedurally, many states, due to the pandemic, entered into a very patchwork job of mail-in voting and rules that were decided on by courts late in the game, sometimes by county administrators late in the game, as opposed to the constitutionally preferred and, I think, mandated way of going through the state legislature. It created a situation leaving many Americans concerned about the manner that the national election was conducted. Every legal vote should be counted, other votes should not.”
Fleischmann explained why he encouraged an audit of the states where results are questioned.
“I’m very warm to what these U.S. Senators are asking for, which is something I think all Americans should be asking for,” he said. “What we would ask for is to audit the procedure so that in those states, to the best degree possible, based on where we are now, that audit be conducted within the next 10 days to look at those votes to determine whether or not they were properly cast, properly tallied and properly certified. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable request and is consistent with what the Democrats have done in previous elections. This is not a new or novel approach.”
Fleischmann said his concerns center around questions about the validity of the presidential portion of the election.
“(President Donald Trump) and I and millions of other Americans have questions about the accuracy of the vote and vote counts in several key states,” he said. “He has a legal team which has advised him, so there have been court challenges, now there will be challenges in the legislative realm at the federal level this week and, in certain instances, state legislatures have convened to address this. We, as a people, as a republic, are dealing with this in the best way we can in light of all the problems, procedurally and otherwise. The problems have been widespread.”
Fleischmann added that he has only seen these issues in the presidential portion of the election and said he feels comfortable with the results of both the House and Senate races.
In the U.S. Senate, Democrats gained several seats and Tuesday’s runoff elections in Georgia determined the party with the majority. In the U.S. House, Republicans gained nearly a dozen seats and Democrats narrowly held their majority.
“I would have to turn to the people who monitor the elections at the local, state and federal levels to see where, in fact, there would be criticisms (of House and Senate races),” he said. “I have heard no criticisms of the Senate or House races that have been out there. The criticisms have largely been directed toward the swing states – specifically Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, to a lesser degree Minnesota – where these alleged irregularities surfaced at a number of levels.”
Fleischmann said that he understands the difficulties that arose due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that the laws still needed to apply or be changed in a proper manner.
“Even in a time of crisis, I would say we’ve got to maintain constitutional sanctity of proper voting procedures,” he said.
Fleischmann was also up for re-election in November of 2020 and he said, from what he saw, Tennessee’s election appeared to run well.
“Thanks to Tre Hargett, our secretary of state, and our entire state election infrastructure our elections have been airtight, secure, efficient and accessible,” he said. “I gave our state an A+ for the manner in which they have conducted the elections – both primary and general.”
Fleischmann also thanked the local and area citizens for re-electing him to his seat in the House.
“I am infinitely thankful to the voters of the 3rd District of Tennessee for a sixth time with record numbers they have allowed me to be their representative in the 117th Congress,” he said.