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Commission addresses COVID-19 concerns

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Now that COVID-19 cases have increased in Washington County, county commissioners are concerned about the effects the spread of the virus could have on the local economy.

During the Washington County Commission’s Monday, July 27 meeting, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy gave an update on COVID-19 testing in the county. He said the health department is currently averaging around 270 tests a day and that cases are still rising in the region, with 550 active cases in Washington County.

“They’re still testing (at the health department). Some days that’s a six-hour day,” Grandy said.

“They’ve really been working hard. It’s one of the best testing facilities in the state as far as productions and organization. They really do a good job over there.”

Grandy also said it ranges between three and 10 days for citizens to get test results back, but the timeliness of the results also depend on the lab and where the test was administered. 

Commissioner Jim Wheeler asked if rapid testing would be increased locally. Grandy said rapid tests are being used by Ballad but that the hold up is related to materials for the test.

“One of the biggest issues with testing in general is getting testing supplies, the reagent has become in short supply,” Grandy said. “There’s just a lot of tests to man all across the country.

The rapid tests are less than seven hours back. As long as (the health department) can get the supplies, they do about 50 a day over there.”

Wheeler said he was also concerned about the local economy, specifically as it relates to small businesses. 

“We’re starting to see, as there’s more community spread, there are situations where employees are perhaps in contact with someone who is being tested,” Wheeler said, “but that leaves us in a position of not knowing whether to send that employee home when that test result could be seven to 10 days out. Then of course they would need to be tested.

“I’m concerned about the impact that’s going to have on our economy with our small businesses … I’m afraid we’re going to have issues with our small business economy if we don’t speed (testing) up.”

Grandy said the governor’s COVID-19 Unifed-Command Group recently met with leaders in Washington and Sullivan County and said the goal was to support local businesses and improve the speed of test results.

“They said the intention is not to close businesses,” Grandy said, “but to try to figure out how to test through and continue to be able to work. One of their goals is to improve the testing speed.” 

The county also made a change to its employee policy as it relates to COVID-19.

The commission approved a change to its COVID-19 personnel policy in the employee handbook.

The biggest change, Commissioner Gary McAllister said, was in order for an employee to self-isolate, he or she would need a letter from a physician saying the employee has one of the following conditions as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: chronic kidney disease, COPD, immunocompromised state from solid organ transplant, obesity over a BMI of 30, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, or type 2 diabetes.

“Months ago, nobody thought this would last this long,” McAllister said. “Since then, the CDC guidelines have changed. We wanted to amend this a little bit. We’re asking them, within 14 days, to get approval or a letter from their physician saying they do have or it’s within their best interest to self-isolate.”

Washington County Human Resources and Benefits Coordinator Michelle Stewart, who is also the county’s COVID-19 coordinator, added that the CDC has lifted the age threshold. Now, an employee with one of the seven outlined conditions must submit a doctor’s note listing his or her conditions.

The commission will hold committee meetings on Wednesday, Aug. 5. The full list of meetings can be viewed at http://www.washingtoncountytn.org/events. The next county commission meeting will be held on Monday, Aug. 24, at 6 p.m.