Mayor sees bright spots in local COVID situation;
County has zero deaths related to virus
COVID-19 has taken a toll on communities across Tennessee, but the outlook could be getting a little better locally, according to Claiborne County Mayor Joe Brooks.
On Friday, Brooks said the county currently has 296 total confirmed cases. However, reports from meetings he has participated in recently show the county is in better shape than many others in Tennessee. He said a map was provided to leaders across the state showing the status of counties and their COVID cases in relation to the number of total cases and the number of recovering cases. Counties in red have active cases that are significantly higher than those in recovery, while counties in yellow are basically holding level. Counties in gray, or listed as N/A, including Claiborne County, have a lower level of active cases than those that have recovered.
“Claiborne County is in one of those gray areas, and I see that as a being somewhat of a positive thing for Claiborne County in that some folks are worried about that total confirmed case number,” he said. “One of the things I’ve argued from this position as county mayor is that for the accuracy of folks to understand, today Claiborne County has 119 active cases as far as yesterday’s (Aug. 13) report, and our total number of recovered is 177, so I feel Claiborne County is headed in the right direction, with that our active cases are lower than our recovered. I think that’s just part of a bell curve when you look at that initial spike that came up in total cases. Now that the Tennessee Department of Health is not requiring a negative test to go back to work, those recovery rates are starting to get more in line with those confirmed cases.”
Brooks said Claiborne County, like others early on in the pandemic, saw a spike in its COVID cases, which was expected.
“We knew that was going to happen. County mayors speak to each other on a weekly basis about things that are impacting our counties, so we knew that once the state started reopening, those cases were going to go higher,” he explained. “One of the concerns we have right now is what that’s going to look like as we started school on Monday. Kids are the dispersers of a lot of stuff throughout the county with their close proximity, and then they take it to their homes.”
Brooks said he has confidence that school leaders are prepared for things that may happen in relation to COVID in school systems. He said we will see the prepared strategy that the school board has developed in the coming weeks and what it looks like to get students back in the classroom.
“I’m confident that those board members and director have foreseen some of the problems that they may encounter along the way and have stuff in place to not skip a beat should they have to do some type of backtrack on schools, whether it be some type of distance learning or continue to do some type of in-class instruction with more social distancing with the students,” he said.
Brooks added that he is worried on some levels. He said in a manner similar to the reopening of the state, where officials knew numbers would spike, the same could happen with schools.
“We knew those numbers were going to spike once everybody started leaving their homes and getting back out in their communities and interacting with each other, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re probably going to see that same thing happen within the school system as well. Again, I’m confident that the school board and the director of schools have taken into account what that will look like and will have a plan in place to help identify that when we do see those numbers rise,” he said.
Claiborne County has no requirement for residents to wear masks in public, and Brooks said he knows that would not be something that could be enforced. Still, he wants to see people take precautions and be safe in relation to the virus. When it comes to the caution residents are taking, he said it’s “probably 50-50.”
“I have not done a countywide mask mandate because myself and other mayors feel we don’t have the authority via statute to do that, and those county mayors that have done that understand that there’s no way to enforce that with any kind of punitive damages other than kind of wagging your finger at somebody and calling them out,” he said. “Having said that, I have made recommendations across the county to folks to wear the masks when out in public. We have a recommendation in all of the county buildings to wear the masks, so we are seeing people coming into those facilities now where we’ve asked them to do that with greater efficacy than we did when we were originally telling people that they had to do that.”
Being cautious, wearing masks and dealing with COVID-19 on a daily basis is part of life now, and Brooks acknowledged that may be part of “normal” life going forward.
“I think as society or Claiborne County in general, we get used to the fact that this is going to be the new normal until either COVID runs its course through our whole community, or there’s some vaccine or something that comes up that can help snuff COVID out, we are understanding that it is a new normal, and folks being cognitive of others’ health concerns are starting to be realized. That’s why I put that at 50-50. It’s going to take a little bit of time for that paradigm to shift over to get into a much greater number of folks wearing masks or being cognitive of people’s social distancing space in public,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control website, Tennessee has 131,747 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday. Of those cases 12,161 were reported in the past seven days. The state ranks 12th nationally in the number of total cases, and 1,345 deaths attributed to the disease.
For more information on COVID-19, safety tips or other information, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus on the internet.