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Senior faces ID renewal dilemma during self-isolation

Nathan Baker • Mar 19, 2020 at 9:19 AM

Claudia O’Hara has been obediently self-isolating in her Johnson City home for days.

As a senior with a heart condition, federal health officials say she is at higher risk from an infection by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

While cooped up at home, she’s been cleaning — she especially hates dusting the blinds — talking with friends and family on the phone and attending online religious services offered by her church.

O’Hara’s birthday is Thursday, however, and she’s facing a predicament.

Her driver’s license and handgun carry permit are expiring and she’s changing her last name on them. She’s required to renew them in person at a driver services center for a new photo and to provide proof of her legal name change.

If she goes to the service center tomorrow, her health could be at risk. If she waits until after the virus threat passes, whenever that is, she’ll have to drive without a valid license to get to the center.

“Everyone wants to be helpful, and they’re telling me to stay out of places where there are a lot of people, but I don’t want to drive without my driver’s license,” she said Wednesday by phone. “It doesn’t seem fair.”

She tried calling the driver services center in Boones Creek, but got no answer.

On Wednesday, a message from the automated phone system at the center said all employees were busy and asked callers to try again later without providing the opportunity to leave a voicemail.

Examiner Brandon at the Drivers Services Central Office did answer, though.

He said Tennessee residents who have received notices telling them they’re required to renew their licenses in person may renew them online as part of temporary measures enacted during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

That would allow O’Hara to renew her license and permit from home, although she will eventually have to go in person to provide documents for her name change.

Brandon said the new ID will use the photo on file in the driver service’s system.

Renewing from the previous form of a Tennessee driver’s license to a REAL ID, a new identification standard mandated by federal authorities for boarding airplanes and accessing some federal facilities, you still need to go in person as well.

As the virus situation unfolds, Brandon said administrators are re-examining processes. There has been some discussion about waiving renewal fees in some cases, he said, but no decisions have been made.

O’Hara said she’s glad to hear of the exceptions, but she questioned why the temporary measures weren’t noted on the state’s website. Gov. Bill Lee’s leadership during the health crisis has been lacking, she said.

“Everything in my life has come to a screeching halt,” she said. “Where is the governor? Give us information, give us some leadership. You’re in a position to lead the state. If other states can do it, what’s wrong with Tennessee?”

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