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ETSU students put Johnson City on the map in CDC mask wearing study

ETSU graduate students conducted observations for CDC on mask wearing on, off campus

A team of graduate students from East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health have been busy placing Johnson City on the map as they conclude four months of local observations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national MASCUP! study.

Under the direction of Dr. Sam Pettyjohn, research assistant professor, ETSU is one of 66 locations nationwide chosen to assess mask wearing behaviors at U.S. colleges and universities as part of a larger “Mask Adherence Surveillance at Colleges and Universities,” or MASCUP! Students have collected field data gathered on and off campus.

Since February, Pettyjohn and 11 students in the Master of Public Health program have canvassed ETSU and other designated locations in Johnson City where they have studied the rates, mask-wearing behaviors and local adherence to CDC COVID-19 prevention guidelines, and how these rates changed over time.

A total of 10 sites, five on campus and five in Johnson City, such as national retail and grocery chains or other local businesses, were chosen for their high foot traffic and proximity, then observed unobtrusively throughout the course of approximately 3,000 total observations during the spring semester — one of the longest such studies in the national study.

Students were first trained in passive observation skills, then data were collected and logged by smartphone app and placed into the CDC databank as observations were made.

“Each student received CDC training on how to observe the public and quickly tell if they were not only wearing a mask but wearing it correctly, as well as how to utilize various research sampling techniques,” said Pettyjohn, noting the added value to their future vocations. “With those skills they are now equipped to complete future observational work that is up to CDC standards. They have received a concrete set of skills and experiences from which we benefit with a better sense of current public health issues and how to address those, while they walk away prepared to do this kind of work as public health professionals.”

Ada Sloop, student and MASCUP! field observer, said, “This study has given me a chance to be a part of something larger than the next assignment. We are living through a chaotic time and being able to help in a little sliver of the work that public health is doing during this pandemic is rewarding.”

Sloop and other team members will also assist the national project team this summer with publication and dissemination of collected information.

“It’s hard to think about what life after COVID will look like, but some day we are going to want to know more about how this virus affected us,” said fellow student and observer Ahauve Orusa. “We are going to want to analyze it. We will want to know about how our regions fared, how our hometowns fared. We will want to know what changes we made to our daily lives to protect ourselves and others from contracting the virus. We will likely be teaching and talking about this pandemic over the many next generations. … Part of the call of a public health researcher in a situation like this is to be on the ground collecting data that have the power to tell a story about history, or to inform the public health decisions. Being on the ground collecting data for the CDC has been an amazing opportunity that has the potential to be used in so many ways for learning.”

According to Pettyjohn, local adherence to mask wearing was high based on locations observed. “It is higher on campus, but high in our community in general. At some sites we observed as high as 95% compliance in Johnson City, and as high as 100% on campus.”

Student researcher Jacob Mitchell said the study has opened his eyes to the importance of taking action in meaningful research on a larger scale. “It has also given me a more concrete understanding of mask utilization in Johnson City and made me conscientious of ‘mask-wearing faux pas’ we all commit at some point, such as wearing it below our noses without realizing it. Everyone has their part in combatting this pernicious virus and the past few months have made me feel like I have made strides in fighting COVID-19.”

In making those strides, Pettyjohn said, “it’s really just a matter of continuing to stay diligent. As a public health professional, I believe we are still in the middle of fighting this pandemic. When we’re talking about vaccinations, when we’re talking about stopping community spread, we have the tools to win and do it right. According to recent guidance from the CDC, those people who haven’t been fully vaccinated need to continue social distancing and mask wearing. At the same time, we, as a society, need to continue to drive up our vaccination numbers. We need to continue to be patient and practice. We’ve had a really long time to get good at this, and we need to stay good at it, sticking with CDC guidelines, so things will be back to some sense of normal faster.”

“There is no question that the past year has shaped history,” concluded observer Alex Condra. “Many people will look on this period of time and wonder what the country did and did not do well in dealing with the pandemic. By working on this study, it is my hope that I have assisted in answering some of these questions.”

For more information about MASCUP!, visit www.etsu.edu/cph/rural-health-research/mascup.php or contact Pettyjohn at pettyjohns@etsu.edu. For more about ETSU College of Public Health or the Master in Public Health, call 423-439-4332, email rogerst@etsu.edu or mphcoordinator@etsu.edu.

For Connie Deegan, a love of nature led to a love for teaching

As a child, Connie Deegan was always outside.

“Most kids can think of one or two things that they were totally into,” Deegan said. “Of the four kids in my family, I was just the outside kid.”

She was constantly observing her natural surroundings, and for her, it was always about finding connections: What animal eats this bug, and what does this bug eat? What animal digs this hole, and how do they do it?

“I wanted to know all that stuff,” she said.

Deegan, who now works in the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department as the nature program coordinator, has turned that incandescent curiosity into a successful career as an educator.

She was recently named Conservation Educator of the Year at the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s 56th Annual Conservation Achievement Awards, making her one of 15 individuals and companies honored.

Deegan said it’s nice for that recognition to go to a city naturalist.

“There’s really good talent on many levels when it comes to nature-based entertainment,” she said, but many awards tend to go to state parks or nonprofits.

“And I like the fact that on some level that it brings recognition to Northeast Tennessee and Johnson City, but I really like the fact that it’s an education award,” Deegan said.

In her role at the city, Deegan teaches and develops lessons for a variety of wildlife classes and summer camps. She also speaks at organizations around the community, including church groups, Girl Scout troops and more. Additionally, Deegan is involved in trail maintenance and helps manage the health of city parks.

As a naturalist and herpetologist, the city said in a press release, Deegan has inspired thousands of people to take an interest in the great outdoors. Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles, and like her general love of nature, Deegan’s fascination with cold-blooded critters began at a young age.

When she was in first grade, Deegan didn’t have the skills necessary to catch a frog, so she would instead come home with water striders and snails.

She eventually graduated to bigger animals like frogs and toads, but the watershed moment for her was flipping a rock and stumbling upon two snakes.

“That started it,” Deegan said. “I’ve always been into snakes. I’m not a snake fanatic. I do not drive around with a snake wrapped around my neck, but I’ve always appreciated them and they have always been my area of interest.”

After that, she wasn’t as interested in toads or frogs. During the summer after fourth grade, she managed to catch 36 snakes, a record that she’s never beaten. She would spend a lot of time, and much of the money she earned babysitting, buying homes for the snakes she caught, studying them and trying to find out what they ate.

Deegan has kept snakes as pets for years, including a corn snake who lived to be almost 22 years old.

Deegan did not like high school, but that all changed when she went to college. Instead of having to take certain classes, Deegan suddenly had the freedom to concentrate on the topics that interested her, namely science.

“When I got to college I was reaffirmed that this is something I’m good at,” she said, “and not only that ... this is something that’s pretty important.”

Increasingly, Deegan feels like people are becoming more attuned to the importance of preserving the natural world.

“In the last like five years I’ve sensed a shift,” Deegan said. “I’ve sensed people really wanting to learn.”

In her lifetime, Deegan has seen the population of the world skyrocket from 3.5 billion people to 7.5 billion people. It takes a ton of people making tiny differences that results in consequential change, she noted.

“It should make sense to anyone that maybe we need to do things a little differently because it is all connected,” Deegan said, “and I think people are starting to feel that way.”

Clinchfield Sub Station: How to survive and thrive and have fun doing it

A phrase that has been appearing in my reviews of late is that a restaurant has not only “survived” in these “Interesting Times,” but also “thrived.”

My dining partner and I recently had a chance to dine at the Clinchfield Sub Station, a sandwich shop in Erwin that could be the “picture-in-the-dictionary” definition of not only surviving, but thriving.

First impressions

Clinchfield Sub Station is an efficient little sandwich shop that is tucked away in Suite 1 of 105 Rock Creek Road.

Though the shop originally occupied both Suites 1 and 2, the times being what they were caused Clinchfield Sub Station to re-size its operation into more compact and efficient quarters.

The dining area now accommodates 16 patrons in a space you could cross in five paces. The (COVID-shielded) cashier and carry-out station is straight ahead as you walk through Clinchfield’s front door. Their menu, including daily specials, is posted on a nearby chalkboard.

Half steak & bacon sub sandwich with bacon and cheese waffle fries

Lacey was the friendly young lady at the cashier/carry-out station who greeted my dining partner and I, before assisting us in our choices for supper. After studying the menu for a moment or two, I decided that a half-sized steak & bacon sub sandwich was my choice ($6.25) and added a side order of Clinchfield’s bacon and cheese-topped waffle fries ($2.49).

Working the grill and ovens during our mealtime was Robert, who took one look at the ticket for my supper order that Lacey had given him, sighed and said:

“You know I can’t read your writing.”

This got my attention, resulting in a brief clarification session with Robert on the finer points of my half steak & bacon sub sandwich with cheese and bacon waffle fries. My clarification must have worked, because my steak & bacon sub sandwich was delicious in every respect, the steak and the bacon forming a neat duet of flavors with the lettuce, pickles, mayonnaise and the toasted, yet chewy hoagie bun. My bacon and cheese waffle fries appeared to be constructed from waffle-cut potatoes, crunchy and smoky bacon bits and an extra-generous portion of some very yellow melted cheese sauce. As a whole, I was very pleased with my half steak & bacon sub sandwich and my bacon with cheese waffle fries.

Daily special: cheeseburger and fries with drink

My dining partner spotted Clinchfield Sub Station’s daily special tacked to the menu board, advertising a cheeseburger with waffle fries and a fountain drink for just $6.99. My dining partner had Robert grill her cheeseburger medium and no grill salt, please, and while you are at it, no salt on the waffle fries, either.

Robert handled my dining partner’s requests with professional ease, taking a nearly two-inch thick hamburger patty and grilling it just so, then properly adding the correct quantity of lettuce, sliced tomato, pickles, onions and just a smidge of mayonnaise to hold it all together. I was able to sneak a couple of my dining partner’s waffle fries off her plate, the better to compare them with my bacon and cheese version. Clinchfield Sub Station’s waffle fries are great just by themselves, even with no salt added, which pleased my dining partner no end.

The bottom line

Clinchfield Sub Station is a very well-run sandwich shop. Lacey and Robert work well together, some mild order deciphering issues notwithstanding. Robert does a great job on the grill, seeing to the particular requests you may make on your order, and completing them all in a timely and friendly manner. Lacey is a definite asset to Clinchfield Sub Station; her good-natured banter with the customers and Robert belies her ability and diligence in making sure your sub sandwich order is done the way you want it. The menu is varied and interesting enough to tempt even the most finicky tummy, with daily specials available on a regular basis.

Clinchfield Sub Station is a fine asset for the folks who live in Erwin and Unicoi County, and is definitely worth the drive as a destination from the rest of the Tri-Cities.

Why not drive on over and check ’em out?

Two JCFD leaders graduate from Executive Fire Officer Program

Two leaders in the Johnson City Fire Department recently graduated from the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy, making them among just 50 graduates from Tennessee.

Interim Fire Chief David Bell and District Chief Jonathan Fulmer were both recognized by the City Commission during a meeting on May 20.

In a press release, the city said the nationally recognized program is designed to provide senior fire officers with a broad perspective on a variety of topics associated with fire administration. In addition to four years of coursework, all participants must complete multiple applied research projects to demonstrate their knowledge in real-life situations.

“Interim Chief Bell and District Chief Fulmer not only met stringent selection criteria for admission into this program but completed its rigorous coursework while excelling in their roles with the Johnson City Fire Department,” City Manager Pete Peterson said in the press release.

“I commend both of these dedicated, hard-working individuals for their personal commitment to lifelong professional development.”

Bell is a 23-year veteran of the city’s fire department and is serving as interim fire chief. As deputy chief, he’s been responsible for overseeing the budget, training and grants for the department.

Fulmer has worked with the department for 17 years and has served as district chief for two years.

More than 1,500 graduates have graduated from the executive fire program, but only 50 are from Tennessee. Bell and Fulmer are the only current members of the Johnson City Fire Department who have completed the program. A third department member is scheduled to graduate next year.

Former Assistant Chief Mark J. Finucane, who has since retired, graduated from the program in August 2010.