Mayor says number of COVID-19 cases have been 'level' in Washington County

Robert Houk • Apr 9, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Health care providers and other officials on the frontline of the coronavirus  (COVID-19) pandemic told Washington County commissioners Wednesday that plans have been put into place to deal with all aspects of the health care emergency.

“Our EMS team is working well, even with a lot of anxiety,” said Dan Wheeley, director of Johnson City/Washington County Emergency Medical Services.

County Mayor Joe Grandy also told commissioners that the number of new COVID-19 cases in Washington County had grown by three earlier in the day, with no deaths reported. He said the number of confirmed cases in the county stood at 30, which was a figure that Christen Minnick, director of the Washington County Health Department, later said had been moved to 33 during the commission’s special electronic meeting.

Minnick also said the county health department has tested 175 people for COVID-19 at its drive-thru testing site.

Grandy said the number of new cases of COVID-19 reported daily in Washington County has “been level from the beginning” of the pandemic.

“Generally, we have seen two to three cases a day,” the mayor said. “That’s good news in that it hasn’t overwhelmed our hospital capacity.”

Commissioners also heard Wednesday from Rusty Sells, the head of Washington County’s Emergency Management Agency. Sells said the county’s COVID-19 response plan was activated on March 20, and officials have continued to make updates to meet new challenges.

Among them are:

• A task force created on March 26 to meet the needs of homeless population during the pandemic. Sells said a shelter tent and shower facilities have been set up at East Tennessee State University’s Day Center.

• County officials working with ETSU to use a dormitory — possibly Lucille Clement — as a “clean site” as a rest site for first responders, emergency health care providers and others working on the frontline of the pandemic.

• A drop-off site to be opened later this week on the first floor of the ETSU parking garage for the public to donate personal protective equipment for first responders.

Sells also said the county is planning for the recovery phase when COVID-19 passes.

“We are looking past the pandemic in terms of health care and the economy,” he said. “What will normal activities look like after we come out of it?”

Wheeley told commissioners the number of EMS calls have declined by 25% in recent weeks. He said safer-at-home orders have meant fewer people on the highways and fewer traffic accidents.

Commissioners voted last week to meet weekly online to hear updates and discuss response to the pandemic. The county mayor has the authority to issue emergency declaration orders in seven-day increments.

Grandy extended the current emergency declaration on Tuesday, and the county is tracking all expenses related to COVID-19 that can be reimbursed by the federal government. 

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