Sumner officials urge mask use

Sumner County Emergency Management Agency Director Ken Weidner urged residents to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a face mask while in public at a press conference on Tuesday. 

With one of the largest one-day increases in COVID-19 cases to date on Tuesday, Sumner County officials held a press conference urging people to wear masks and practice social distancing.

As of June 30, there have been 1,417 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sumner County and 52 deaths. Around 580 people have recovered from the disease. There were 46 new cases reported on Tuesday and five new hospitalizations. A total of 221 Sumner County residents have been hospitalized for virus-related complications since March.

“We have seen a significant resurgence this week,” said Sumner County EMS Director Keith Miller. Miller was joined at the press conference on Tuesday at the Sumner County Emergency Communications Center in Gallatin by Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt, EMA Director Ken Weidner, Sumner County Health Director Hal Hendricks and Dr. Chris Wells of Tristar Hendersonville Medical Center. Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown and Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary were also on-hand.

Miller said that on at least three separate occasions recently Sumner Regional Medical Center has had to divert COVID-19 patients to other facilities, although no one at the press conference could give the specific number of patients currently being treated at the Gallatin hospital.

Wells said Hendersonville Medical Center is currently treating six COVID-19 patients.

“We are seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 after the initial spike we saw in March,” he said.

 Wells said that over the past two weeks, medical professionals have seen a gradual increase not only in the number of those testing positive in the hospital and local doctors’ offices, but also in the number of patients being admitted to the hospital.

“Of those patients that are being admitted to the hospital, they are quite ill,” he said, with several requiring intensive care resources and prolonged stays.

Wells, like the other officials, stressed the use of face masks while out in public and the use of social distancing.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of people who are coming into the hospital who are very severe,” said Miller. “They are having to be placed on a ventilator. We are seeing deaths in the county again which we haven’t seen in some time.”

Miller urged the use of a mask, not just for personal protection, but for the protection of those around them.

“We’ve had an increase in those testing positive but they have no symptoms,” Miller added. “So they may be contributing to the spread to someone who is medically fragile.”

Holt said he’s concerned that everywhere he goes in Sumner County – like the grocery store and the gym – few are wearing masks.

“I’ll be the first to admit that I have become lax,” he said. “I assumed that things were getting better. And they were for a while. I allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security.”

Holt urged residents to practice the suggested safeguards over the July 4 weekend.

“We should celebrate our freedom,” he said. “But with freedom comes responsibility.”

July 3 event in Hendersonville cancelled

Also during the press conference, Clary said that he’s been asked several times how he feels about Hendersonville holding an event on July 3 where an estimated 2,000 people are scheduled to attend.

The Hendersonville Area Chamber of Commerce bowed out of holding its annual Freedom Festival – an event that draws between 10,000 to 15,000 people – a couple of weeks ago.

Hendersonville Parks Director Andy Gilley said the city would plan a smaller event, called Stars, Stripes and Guitars, with a smaller crowd, entertainment that would be livestreamed, a few food trucks, and a bigger fireworks display that could be seen from a further distance. More than 2,000 tickets had been distributed by Monday.

“I flat out explained that for more than a month I have been saying it’s a bad idea to bring people together for any sort of event,” Clary told reporters. Clary said he had concerns about the event, and that he and his children would not be attending.

When asked if he thought the event should be held, Hendricks declined to comment and said that would be a decision for the governor to make.

Weidner said the issue had been discussed on conference and Zoom calls, and that some officials had expressed concern.

Both Gilley and Interim City Administrator Dave LeMarbre had said that Lee’s recommendations for events would be followed, and that specific social distancing guidelines and protocol – like seating attendees at tables instead of allowing a “pit” area in front of the stage - would be observed.

However, late on Tuesday the parks department announced on its Facebook page that the event and fireworks display were cancelled.

“Not only will we not have an event but we do not want to put our incredible HPD in a position to have to police a fireworks event that is not planned and controlled. All events on July 3 will be cancelled,” read the post.

Gilley confirmed the cancellation via text.

“I will not put on an event that doesn’t have the support of the leader of our city and I will not put our police department in a situation where they have to police the city not knowing where crowds might be,” he wrote.

Graduation photos show few wearing masks

Holt was asked by a reporter what he thought about photos taken at Gallatin High School’s graduation that showed few wearing masks at the indoor event.

“I think that demonstrates peoples’ lack of commitment for personal protection,” he said. “We all have the responsibility to wear PPE.”

Holt said that masks are available at local city halls, the Sumner County Administration building and at local health departments.

Hal Hendricks said his office had not been notified of any cases of the virus stemming from graduations over the weekend – including at Gallatin High School.

Long Hollow Baptist Church, one of the county’s largest churches, and the site of four Sumner County Schools graduations over the weekend, announced June 27 it was cancelling its in-person gatherings and returning to online-only services for the near future.

“Late during the week of June 21 we became aware of a staff member and church member who were present during our first limited gathering and tested positive for COVID-19. We are also hearing of other potential cases in our community as well,” the church wrote in a statement. “After consulting with local health experts, we thing it’s best to return to online-only gatherings in the near term as transmission of the disease seems to be rising in our area once again.”

White House High School held its graduation at the church on Thursday, Station Camp students and parents gathered at the church on Friday and Portland and Beech High schools held graduations there on Saturday.

Sumner County Director of Schools Del Phillips will present the school district’s plan for students to return to school in August to Sumner County Board of Education members on July 14. Students are scheduled to return to school on Aug. 3.

Commissioner hospitalized due to COVID-19

Two of recent hospitalizations due to COVID-19 include Sumner County Commissioner Alan Driver and his wife. Driver, who lives in Bethpage, said on his Facebook page on Sunday that he was released from the hospital on June 26.

“They had intended to keep me one more day, but they had a rush of patients who needed to be in the COVID unit and they felt like it was okay to leave,” he wrote. Driver, whose wife is still in the COVID unit, said he is recovering well, but will be in isolation for a while.  

Driver said he doesn’t know how he got the virus and that it spread through his entire family in the matter of days.

“I know there are a lot of naysayers out there who don’t believe or understand how serious this can be,” he said. “Please be safe. Once you have it, it’s too late to take precautions.”

Holt said on Tuesday that Driver hadn’t attended any county commission meetings within the seven days prior to his diagnosis.

Holt wasn’t sure if officials would go back to online meetings as allowed by Gov. Lee.

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