In alliance with updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Hamilton County Health Department is recommending that both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear masks in public indoor settings.
Officials said, "Breakthrough cases are possible, and preliminary evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people who do become infected with the COVID-19 Delta variant can spread the virus to others. For this reason, the CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people wear a mask in areas of substantial or high transmission; transmission in Hamilton County is high, and daily case counts are increasing. As the Delta variant continues to spread rapidly, it is important to exercise caution in areas where social distancing cannot be maintained. Due to the low rate of vaccination in Hamilton County, many community members are still at risk of serious infection."
“We want to reiterate that vaccines are highly effective, however, it is in the best interest of our community that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wears masks in public spaces at this time,” said Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes. “Although the risk of transmission from a vaccinated individual is low, many people in Hamilton County are still unvaccinated and, therefore, are at high risk of developing severe illness. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and those around you.”
She said, "Mitigation efforts such as physical distancing and hand washing should continue. Vaccination remains the best way to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Vaccines are widely accessible and available for everyone 12 years and older. High vaccination rates are needed to eliminate mask wearing and social distancing."
Ms. Barnes also said that at this time, the Hamilton County Health Department "strongly recommends that all individuals wear masks in school settings. New CDC guidance emphasizes the importance of wearing masks to reduce transmission in schools. Many school-aged children are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, leaving them susceptible to infection. To ensure that students and teachers are able to safely participate in in-person instruction, it is recommended that all wear masks and practice social distancing when possible."
She added, "Businesses are encouraged to take action now and implement these masking recommendations to slow the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. Businesses wishing to require masks may visit the Print Resources webpage to access signage provided by the Health Department. Signage is available in English and Spanish.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Ms. Barnes made a plea to unvaccinated county residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine during Wednesday’s commissioners meeting. The mayor emphasized that getting vaccinated is not and should not be considered a political action.
“It reaches across all races and political leanings. It’s not just one group or Republicans, and that’s the misnomer,” he said. “It’s a mix of a lot of people. You hear that day in and day out and you start to believe it, but we’re having just as difficult a time getting African Americans to get it as we are Caucasians in the suburbs. I’m getting tired of hearing that it’s only the Republicans who are not getting the vaccine.”
He said younger populations are becoming ill and hospitalized with the delta variant, which he said is much more contagious than the normal version of COVID-19. The mayor said three people in the county died from COVID-19 on Tuesday.
“Vaccination is how we get out of this pandemic, so I would urge anyone who isn’t vaccinated who is age eligible to get vaccinated immediately,” Ms. Barnes said. “Our numbers are all going in the wrong direction presently. It’s like we are in the same situation that we were before vaccinations.”
She said that the county is currently sitting at a 42.4 percent vaccination rate, and that she hopes more will become vaccinated when the Pfizer vaccine is approved for a younger age group. Mayor Coppinger said over 800 people were vaccinated on Tuesday.
“Your health department can give out 3,000 vaccines a day,” Ms. Barnes said. “I would love to need that capacity again. You have Walmart, CVS, doctor’s offices that are giving vaccines. Access shouldn’t be a problem. If someone has an access problem, they should call the Health Department because we will work with you.”
While there are a few people who have received the vaccine and still passed away because of COVID, she told Commissioner Warren Mackey that 99.9 percent of those dying are unvaccinated.
“I get there’s a lot of hesitancy and that people have a choice,” commissioner Katherlyn Geter said. “I get the fear and that the people don’t want government telling us what to do. But we continue to see the numbers increase and people die, this is not a political issue. This is a life or death issue, and I would really like to go around and survey and ask them if they value their life and the life of each person sitting next to you.”
For additional resources and guidance, call the COVID-19 Hotline at 423-209-8383.
Free Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination events will be offered at multiple locations this week. No appointment is necessary, and anyone 12 years of age and older is eligible. Visit vaccine.hamiltontn.gov and click on “Vaccine Calendar of Events” to see the most up-to-date COVID-19 vaccine calendar. To accelerate the vaccination process, print and complete the vaccine encounter form available on the website.
The COVID-19 Hotline is available to assist with COVID-19 vaccine inquiries Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 423-209-8383.