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County taps new health department director, sees drop in COVID-19 cases

From STAFF REPORTS

The Washington County Health Department now has a new director to lead its efforts.

Chris Hodgin

The Washington County Commission heard its first report on Monday night from Chris Hodgin, the new health director who just finished up a 21-year career with the U.S. Air Force. Hodgin said he is encouraged by the downward COVID-19 trend he’s seen in Washington County, especially after the upward trends just a few months ago.

“In the last month, we’ve seen a precipitous drop in the numbers in our favor,” Hodgin said. “What I mean by that is, if you look at our last seven day average of new cases, you’re looking at 32.5 cases per day. But if you go back two weeks, that number was 42.5 cases per day. If you jump back a month, that number was 86 cases a day … I’m really encouraged by those numbers. It looks like the trend lines are moving in our favor.”

Hodgin also said the county is continuing to vaccinate its citizens and is leading the state in second-round vaccinations.

“We are in the top 10 percent of the state (for first round vaccinations),” Hodgin said.

“We are 5.4 percent on second doses, which actually makes us the highest county in the state. We are doing well there.”

Commissioner Jim Wheeler said he has had many calls from people with concerns about vaccine shortages. He also said people are concerned with the rate in which Tennessee is getting vaccinated.

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said Tennessee plans to divvy out vaccines to each county according to population and that the state plans to get about 80,000 doses a week for the entire state. He also said new vaccines should be coming out in the future.

“It definitely is too slow,” Grandy said. “The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is supposed to be next up. My indication is that they are looking at approval perhaps this week to add additional supply to the stream (of vaccines). That’s a one-shot dose. So that simplifies the effort.”

Hodgin added that the county is doing vaccine pods at Freedom Hall by invitation only, which has helped focus efforts and get the vaccine administered as quickly as possible. 

“People aren’t having to wait in long lines,” Hodgin said. “We’re knocking this stuff out in big numbers every day. We’re very very happy with how this has turned out.”

Hodgins also said the health department is still doing COVID-19 testing each day, but that the number of positive cases has also decreased.

“The positive results from those tests are down to about 11 percent. So as high as it was here in the recent past, we’re down to one-in-10 (people having a positive COVID-19 test) when we had seen numbers as high as one-in-three in the recent past.”

Grandy added that hospital numbers have decreased and Ballad Health leaders say if the COVID-19 cases keep trending downward, elective surgeries could continue in February. 

For more information on the Washington County Health Department, go to https://www.washingtoncountytn.org/162/Health-Department.