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Washington County vaccination site moving from Freedom Hall to County Health Department

The Northeast Regional Health Office on Friday announced the drive-through vaccination site at Freedom Hall, where vaccines have been administered since December, will be moved to the Washington County Health Department on Monday.

According to the release, vaccination clinics for first doses will be held at the health department, 219 Princeton Road, April 26-28, while the final two Freedom Hall vaccination events (for second doses) will be held April 29-30. Starting May 3, all health department COVID-19 testing and vaccination will be held at the Washington County Health Department.

Both testing and vaccines will be drive-through sites set up behind the building. Signs will direct people on where to go. Additionally, the regional office announced it will change the county’s testing hour from 8:30-9:30 a.m. to 1:30-2:30 p.m. Hawkins County’s two testing locations are also having their hours adjusted, beginning Monday.

Upcoming Washington County vaccine clinics:

  • April 26: 8:30-11 a.m., 219 Princeton Road, Washington County Health Department (first dose Pfizer-BioNTech)
  • April 27: 8:30-11 a.m., 219 Princeton Road (first dose Pfizer-BioNTech)
  • April 28: 7:30 a.m.-10 a.m., 219 Princeton Road (first dose Pfizer-BioNTech)
  • April 29: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 1320 Pactolas Road, Freedom Hall (second dose Pfizer-BioNTech)
  • April 30: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 1320 Pactolas Road, Freedom Hall (second dose dose Pfizer-BioNTech)

The Northeast Regional Health Office also announced new vaccine clinics in surrounding counties next week:

Carter County, Great Lakes Workforce Development (Pfizer-BioNTech):

  • April 26, 9-11 a.m.
  • April 28, 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Greene County, Greene Valley Development Center (Pfizer-BioNTech):

  • April 27, 7:30-9:30 a.m.
  • April 29, 3:30-6:30 p.m.

Hawkins County, Phipps Bend Industrial Park (Pfizer-BioNTech):

  • April 26, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
  • April 30, 7-9 a.m.

Hancock County, Hancock County Health Department (Moderna):

  • April 26, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
  • April 29, 7-9 a.m.
  • April 30, 7:30-9:30 a.m.

Johnson County, Johnson County Health Department (Moderna):

  • April 26, 7:30-9:30 a.m.
  • April 28, 9-11 a.m.

Unicoi County, Unicoi County High School (Pfizer-BioNTech):

April 27, 9 a.m. to noon and 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Town of Unicoi opens up Jack's Natural Playground

The Town of Unicoi cut the ribbon Friday on its new custom-built, tree-studded playground at the Pinnacle Trail head.

Jack’s Natural Playground is the town’s only official public playground, and features a cabin with lookout decks, a swinging bridge, slanted climbing walls, a slide and more.

“This is a beautiful playground and we hope many, many people will come and enjoy the outdoors, bring their picnic — there are picnic tables — and have some wonderful family time here and build some beautiful memories,” Mayor Kathy Bullen said.

Jack’s Natural Playground was designed and built by town maintenance department technicians Tony Street and Danny Coffee. The two came up with the concept design of the playground, then built it from scratch.

“We wanted to build a little Appalachian-style cabin on stilts, and that’s where it started, and it kind of just went from there,” said Street. “And of course the internet, google and Pinterest helps too.”

Street said the pair enjoyed working on the playground, and he hopes they can expand it in the future — possibly with a play version of the fire tower located at the top of the Pinnacle Trail.

“It was an honor that we were chosen, and they had enough faith in us and respect in us to let us run with it,” said Street.

The playground was funded by a $20,000 state grant obtained by the Unicoi County Health Department through the Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Primary Prevention.

“It’s another great opportunity for the community to have a place to play and be active,” said Ashley Davies, the healthy development coordinator for the northeast region.

The project was completely funded by the grant, and the town’s only necessary financial investment was the time of the maintenance department technicians.

“We had the vision for this particular space, but it has turned out even better than expected,” said Michelle Ramsey, the Unicoi County Health Department director.

Former town Mayor Johnny Lynch, who was a big supporter of the playground during his time as mayor, said he especially liked the name of the playground, as it paid respects to late Unicoi resident Jack Snider, who donated the land to the town.

“It’s just great to see it come together,” said Lynch.

Jack’s Natural Playground will be open to visitors each day from sunrise to sunset.

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ETSU Board of Trustess approves 1.98% tuition increase

East Tennessee State University’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a 1.98% tuition increase for the 2021-22 academic year, which will increase the cost of tuition for students by $75 per semester.

The increase is slightly below the 0-to-2% tuition increase cap the Tennessee Higher Education Commission is expected to approve in May, and will provide the university with about $1.98 million in revenue, which which will be used to fund the salary pool.

Graduate students will see a slightly lower increase at 1.67%. Out-of-state tuition for students in neighboring states will be capped at $10,500, while students from the other 44 states’ tuition is capped at $13,500. International students will see no increase in tuition.

Last year, the board voted to keep tuition flat due to economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed increase last year that was canceled would have raised tuition for undergraduate students by $63 per semester.

The university is also in the second of two years of an increase in fees to fund Student Government Association concerts and the BucFund, and in year four out of five of a technology access fee increase. The combined $33 increase is expected to bring in nearly $400,000: $310,000 going to the SGA for concerts and the BucFund and $84,000 for technology access. Combined with the tuition increase, students will see a tuition and fee increase of $91.50 per semester ($183 total) for the upcoming academic year.

COVID-19 vaccine plans

ETSU is not currently planning to require students living on campus to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with University Counsel Mark Fulks saying it’s “related to the fact it is still under an emergency use authorization” and potential legislative hurdles.

The immunization requirements approved by the board are mostly unchanged from years past, though an added provision would allow the university to add additional immunization requirements if recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to future epidemics, pandemics or emergent communicable disease outbreaks. In a press availability after the meeting, ETSU President Brian Noland said any COVID-19 vaccine requirement would need to come back before the board of trustees.

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Tolley's friendship helped Science Hill junior navigate cancer diagnosis

On March 10, 2019, Noah Cook was diagnosed with cancer: T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma.

Cook, a junior at Science Hill High School, is now in remission and is finishing up his final treatments over the next few months. As he’s gone through treatment, Cook has managed to maintain a more than 4.0 GPA.

Over the course of his diagnosis, Cook has formed a tight bond with former ‘Toppers assistance coach and guidance counselor Benny Tolley, who is himself a two-time cancer survivor. Tolley retired a couple of years ago and now works as a student ambassador at Science Hill.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to get to know Noah,” Tolley said. “He has been an incredible inspiration to so many people in our school and community. I hope that I portrayed half of the positive vibes that he has and that he continues to have during my battle.

“Battling his cancer didn’t bother him nearly as much as not being able to walk through the doors of Science Hill and perform his best in his classes.”

The Press recently asked Cook about his diagnosis and how his relationship with Tolley has guided him through it.

How did you meet Benny Tolley, and how has he helped mentor you through your diagnosis?

I first met Coach Tolley over the phone while I was living in Memphis for treatment, and he helped me plan my classes for my sophomore year. When I came back to school midway through my sophomore year, he was no longer my counselor, but made it a point to check on me every day (I was still very, very weak at the time). He is the nicest, most genuine person who I know and will always be there for me when I need him. I trust him with my life, and his friendship means the world to me.

How has being diagnosed with cancer affected your day-to-day life?

Being diagnosed with cancer instantly changed every aspect of my life. I now constantly have to plan every week around chemotherapy, maintain my grades, even when I have to miss school. I also have to go to school and my job, even when I’m sick from chemotherapy, remember to take my pills every morning and night, and constantly be on alert for any signs of a bad reaction to treatment.

What advice do you have for other kids who are grappling with cancer?

Cancer sucks and there is nothing fun about treatment, but don’t admit defeat and let cancer rule your life. Don’t become a victim to your circumstances. Strive every day to regain your strength, independence and endurance. You will never get better by sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. You will only get better with a determined mindset.

What’s your favorite thing to do outside of school?

Outside of school, I enjoy working at my job at Buttermilk Sky Pie, fishing and hanging out with my friends.

What are your favorite subjects, and what do you want to do after your graduate?

My favorite subjects are history, math, criminal justice and construction. After I graduate, I plan to attend the University of Tennessee.