Officials encourage area residents to wear face masks

Washington County commissioners met electronically Wednesday for an update on COVID-19.

A public health official said Wednesday the number of new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in Northeast Tennessee remains “pretty low” while other regions of the state are seeing an uptick in positive tests for COVID-19.

Dr. David Kirschke, the director of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department, told Washington County commissioners the number of new cases include grocery clerks and employees of “big box” home improvement stores. He noted there is “still a risk of community spread” from the pandemic.

He said the Johnson City Transit System has achieved a 90% compliance of riders wearing face masks after offering free or reduced fares to those who do so on its buses. Kirschke said “the challenge” is to help businesses offer similar incentives for customers to wear protective masks.

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said that is one of the issues his economic recovery task force is expected to take up when it meets later this week. He said the group hopes to help local businesses promote the use of protective masks among their customers.

The mayor said masks will be made available to “those who choose to wear them”  when the Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough and the county clerk/trustee offices in Johnson City reopen to the public on Monday. He said the body temperatures of those conducting business at the courthouse will also be checked.

Christen Minnick, the director of the Washington County Health Department, also told commissioners that free masks from the state are still available at her facility on Princeton Road during regular business hours. She said a new shipment arrived on May 22.

Minnick said the health department is continuing to do drive-through tests for COVID-19. She said the number of tests conducted varies, with 81 completed on Tuesday and 43 on Wednesday.

The hours for the COVID-19 tests will also change from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. week days, to 9 a.m. to noon. She said the timing has changed because state National Guard members will no longer be lending a hand in the testing.

Kirschke said the National Guard is being deployed to help with COVID-19 testing in assisted living centers in the region. The doctor said Gov. Bill Lee had hoped to have all residents of such centers and nursing homes tested for the virus before the end of the month.