It has been less than one week since Hamilton County gave the first dose of the COVID vaccine and it has been less than one week since Hamilton County was given the greatest jolt of reality that any of us anywhere in the United States could ever imagine. Nobody was ready for the magnitude of what was going to happen and the very first thing you need to know is that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has just ranked Tennessee as No. 3 in the country on the list of states vaccinating the fastest.
It is not a hard reach to find that of the 95 counties in Tennessee, not one is faster in getting the vaccine into citizens’ arms than the Hamilton County Health Department. And then there is this: If you could know what the people of Hamilton County have done since that first ungainly start -- this in less than one week, mind you – we would all begin to cry in gratitude.
In the last two days, the Health Department has given every dose of a 2,000 allotment that didn’t even arrive until Monday. I joyously believe that not one city and not another state in America can make that claim. Yet that is “small potatoes,” brother. According to a variety of sources, by this time next week Hamilton County will have a huge inoculation center in place with parking for well over 2,000 cars.
The center will have ample rest rooms, easy access, and every amenity you can imagine, that will deliver over 2,000 doses of vaccine on any given day. As this is written, software is being expedited to allow a reservation process that could begin as early as the middle of next week, or … to use a catch line … in just six days.
Within several weeks it is conceivable there will be no lines, no need to arrive at 4 a.m. in hope of being given the vaccine. There will be room to wait comfortably those 30 minutes after the vaccine is given to guard against allergic reactions.
What I am telling you is that nowhere in the United States will have Hamilton County’s equal by next week. And again, I must emphasize … It. Has. Just. Been. Six. Days. … since heath officials all over America realized all 50 states were in this way over our heads.
Are you realizing the enormity of this miracle? But, wait … it gets so good it will boggle your mind.
Obviously, you want to know where our super center will be. The location will be announced Thursday or Friday. The best location is the Alstom testing site on Riverfront Parkway, but there is a lack of sufficient parking. Obviously, that will remain as a seven-day-a-week testing location. Logic will then demand that the only place in the county with that much readily available parking is Volkswagen at Enterprise South.
You say there is no building, yet if you were to call the Pentagon, you would find out some military logistical secrets. With today’s modern technology and emergency resources, the United States has the wherewithal to plop down a durable tent-like structure, with adequate heat and air, that is big enough to hold a horse race. Modular support-buildings, rest-room facilities, telephone systems with the parking already there? Oh … figure somewhere in the vicinity of … just about six days.
Ain’t gonna’ work, the skeptics will cry. “That’s too far away!” … What, then waiting six hours in a car? You drive to Bonny Oaks to get your driver’s license. This is less than 10 minutes from Hamilton Place. This ain’t no big grab. “There isn’t any bus service up there!” Quick answer: “Yet.”
Then there are the “strike teams,” Whoa! Before Volkswagen falls prey to epilepsy, these “strikers” will be well organized groups of health department staff that will venture into specific areas all over the county to administer the vaccine. On Monday one such strike team hit Orange Grove, our renowned centers for the physically and mentally challenged. They even went to the center’s group homes, and gave 300 doses of vaccine within a few hours.
You are going to hear a lot about the strike teams. The health department is working in collaboration with the federal government to provide vaccines of those who are physically unable to fare for themselves. The vaccine comes from the state but, understand, it is carefully allotted outside of the shipment for the general public, as any humanitarian can easily argue.
These strike teams will target certain areas where mitigating circumstances become necessary. Yes, as the vaccine becomes more plentiful – several manufacturers will join Pfizer and Moderna within short months – it will get better. Unbeknownst to you, over 300 organizations such as drug stores, emergency care clinics, doctors’ groups, and the like, have already applied with the state of Tennessee to become “partners” with county health departments and administer as well as give vaccinations.
The over-riding problem is availability of the vaccine. According to the CDC, the state of Tennessee has already distributed over 300,000 in-state and over 150,000 doses have been given (50.8 percent.) Why? Short answer: Other Tennessee counties lack the proficiency of Becky Barnes and the Hamilton County Health Department.
Some may have noticed that at 6:03 a.m. on Wednesday, the now-well oiled teamwork of the Hamilton County’s logistical services announced there were enough donors to meet the 1,000 doses that would be given when the infusion center at Chattanooga State opened at 9 a.m. This was a huge courtesy to the citizens of our county, especially since the vaccines are still limited to those 75 and older.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger explained: “I fear we may have disappointed some people but it was far better for them to know than waiting in line. Everybody involved want to serve our citizens in the best possible way we can. You talk about the around-the-clock effort to do the right thing; it is amazing what has been accomplished. When we realized the moving parts of the puzzle, we brought in our Emergency Management people (bravo for Chris Adams), the National Guard, the sheriff’s office, and every other resource we could imagine.”
Point of clarity: When the tax split of 2013 occurred, the city of Chattanooga was relieved of any obligation to the Health Department. It is totally supported by the county. Surely you recognize the city has done precious little to help in the coronavirus pandemic in Chattanooga. The city took $1.6 million of coronavirus relief and gave its employees a one-time salary bonus. They just took $800,000 to help “non-profits” and while that is certainly noble, offered not a nickel to help ease the county’s burdensome load to help in the care of 180,000 city residents. Not a nickel.
Just between us pigeons: The $1.6 million employee bonuses using COVID relief funds raised eyebrows all the way to Washington. Yesterday the City Council chunked $225,000 to the Tivoli and the Memorial Auditorium, $75,000 to the Forgotten Child Fund, $300,000 to small business relief, and $40,000 to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. At the same time, there were three new COVID deaths in Chattanooga, 525 new cases on Wednesday, with 205 patients hospitalized and 62 in Intensive Care Units. Ask me how we’re doing?
If you don’t think we wouldn’t save millions every year with some type of “metro rule” like Nashville, Knoxville, and Memphis embraced long ago, then get in line with Chattanooga’s City Council. These are the heartless dandies who blatantly ignore the fact that a rash of in-the-city-limits shootings in 2020 ended up at Erlanger Hospital and with each there is an indigent cost of $25,000 in the first 30 minutes. There is no known way for Erlanger to get a thin dime of it back but the city of Chattanooga budgets not a nickel for Erlanger year after year. Ask me how we’re doing?
When the city used $1.6 million of COVID money to give its employees raises, the County Commission was aghast. There is absolutely no way the county could do the same. At the Health Department, Barnes and her top lieutenants are “salaried.” They are not eligible for county-wide raises or bonuses. Instead, Becky must juggle a precarious budget with the necessity of hiring “at least” 100 hands-on nurses and medical practitioners to immediately step forward and meet the needs of a new “super center” that will come online next week.
Don’t kid yourself; there are “urgent” requests to the Electric Power Board, the Tennessee-American Water Company, plumbers for the restrooms, carpenters, and engineers for HVAC, traffic specialists, you name it. Verizon says it is setting up a state-of-the-art telephone tower that can handle volume demands. Go ahead, run up there and take a look-see for yourself.
I am simply telling you that it took the Lord God six days to create the world as we know it and, in the exact same amount of time, the collective brilliance of Hamilton County has created a glistening jewel of a plan that will overwhelm any other efforts in all of God’s kingdom.
On New Year’s Eve our Hamilton Country Health Department couldn’t herd a dozen goats. Since then, in just six days, they have emerged as a G.O.A.T alright: “Greatest of All Time.”
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As of Wednesday night, it is not known when the next vaccine doses will arrive in Hamilton County. None have been scheduled for arrival on Thursday or Friday. If shipments arrive on Monday or Tuesday next week, these doses could be administered in the new inoculation center. Please check the Hamilton County Health Department’s website regularly for updates. www.health.hamiltontn.org