Chattanooga will give a county resident $1,000 in weekly vaccine sweepstakes

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Mayor Tim Kelly recently announced, in front of Orchard Knob Elementary School, that the city will fund seven positions in seven Hamilton County Schools within city limits to provide wraparound services for students.

The city of Chattanooga on Thursday announced a new sweepstakes offering of $1,000 per week to encourage Hamilton County residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mayor Tim Kelly said Thursday that the city will give out $1,000 and a free month of city parking to one winner every Thursday, beginning Aug. 19.

"Incentives do work," Kelly said. "I'm an economist at heart, and we know they work. We know they move the needle. So this is something we've been kicking around for quite some time."

The first winner will receive an additional prize of two round-trip tickets on American Airlines to any destination served by the airline. For domestic flights, the winner and a guest will fly first class.

The sweepstakes covers anyone who has become fully vaccinated, even back in the spring. But to encourage new vaccine takers, the city will also give a separate $500 prize to someone who gets a first shot in the first six weeks of the "Vax 4 Cash" program.

Kelly, who said in May he intended to "gamify" vaccines - as governments in other states were doing similar incentives - has doubled down on COVID-19 recovery in recent weeks by requiring masks in city facilities and beginning vaccine events at community centers across Chattanooga, which are now closed for regular use.

"We need to try some different strategies because I've talked to other mayors around the state, and everybody's frozen at this level," he said in May, when he was lifting restrictions and encouraging vaccines amid much lower case counts. "Look, we need to have some dramatic increases before we can really get through this.

"We are, to some extent, I think, whistling past the graveyard if we don't get that rate up before some variant pops up and gets past the goalie, as it were."

Thursday, Kelly said the administration has spent the time since he heard about other state lottery programs working out the legal and logistical kinks to launch.

Also in that time, the delta variant and other mutations of the virus have caused outbreaks across the world, especially in under-vaccinated areas. In Hamilton County, where just over 40% of the population is fully vaccinated, daily and active cases have risen back to January highs, with 245 new cases reported on Wednesday.

"The COVID-19 delta variant is causing even young, healthy admissions to our ICU, damaging their health and their finances in the process," said Mary Lambert, the city's director of public health, noting the 519 COVID-19 deaths in the county. "I understand from our friends at the county health department that the last two COVID deaths were otherwise healthy people in their 40s. The only other thing they had in common was that they were unvaccinated.

"While we're seeing a slight rise in vaccinations - and any increase is a great thing - we are also seeing a sharp rise in infections."

Kelly said this creates a choice for residents.

"Unfortunately we find ourselves at another crossroads. Today, we're beginning to see cases grow at a similar rate to what we saw in the darkest days of 2020, which is why we had to make the difficult decision to close our community centers until we see a reversal in the current trend," Kelly said on Thursday. "So each of us in Chattanooga and Hamilton County has a very simple choice. Get vaccinated against the virus or risk severe illness, huge hospital bills and long term health effects or even death."

In addition to public health, Kelly says an incentive is the economically sound way to increase vaccines and keep the virus from promoting further economic shutdowns, like the city experienced last year.

"For those concerned about our economy and another possible shutdown, public health is economic health. One is not possible without the other," Kelly said. "So the best way to get this pandemic under control is to get at least 70% of our population vaccinated, full stop."

Asked about the possibility of a second economic shutdown locally, Kelly said he is concerned about the potential if vaccine rates don't pick up.

"Of course I'm concerned. I mean, it is kind of an unthinkable thing, but I think the spikes that we're seeing here and in other areas that don't have sufficient vaccination rates are frightening," Kelly said. "And again, by allowing the delta variant to circulate, we're risking further mutation of the virus, which could get even scarier even more deadly."

The prize will go through the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce to one winner who enters either online or in person and is then proven to have been vaccinated.

"As we face the current challenges of COVID-19 and the new delta variant, which has made even young and healthy people sick, it's all the more important that we work together to slow the spread and regain the momentum we saw against COVID-19, just a few short weeks ago," said Justin Groenert, vice president of public policy for the chamber. "The only permanent way to end this pandemic and keep our city open for business is to vaccinate our way out."

While the federal government is still shoring up the rules for American Rescue Plan Act funding, a representative of the mayor's office said the city will try to fund the program using some of the $38.6 million it has received in COVID relief funds.

The sweepstakes is funded to run for 20 weeks once it begins but could be extended depending on its efficacy and funding.

Kelly urged businesses that wish to donate a prize for the sweepstakes to contact the mayor's office at 423-643-7800 or

To enter the sweepstakes, residents of the city or county who are over 18 and who have been vaccinated through a program associated with the Hamilton County Department of Health can enter at or fill out a paper form at the Chattanooga Public Library.

Entrants must be 18 to win, and city and county employees are not excluded.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at