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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Boxes are labeled with the names of the four children under the care of Emma Brown at a North Chattanooga home on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Emma Brown is working as a preschool teacher and nanny for three North Chattanooga families who have pooled their resources to create an in-home alternative to in-person classrooms.

Every week, the Times Free Press will publish five essential things to know about the coronavirus pandemic in the Chattanooga region. For more updated case count numbers and other data related to Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, visit timesfreepress.com/virus.

Five things to know about COVID-19 in the Chattanooga region for the week ending August 21:

1. COVID-19 continues to spread through large gatherings: Health officials say large groups are driving local outbreaks.

Why it matters: When the virus spreads through group gatherings, health department resources such as contact tracing are stretched thin. People who may have been exposed may not realize it and could unknowingly spread the virus. The best advice from health experts is to continue social distancing and avoid these types of events. However, the trend in recent outbreaks suggests many people are not following these guidelines, so there is advice to follow to stay safe.

Read more about how to stay safe when around groups of people.

2. Hamilton County teachers will follow strictest quarantine guidelines: Tennessee has given other school districts permission to have teachers return to class after exposure to the virus.

Why it matters: The Hamilton County Department of Education maintains its staff will be able to follow the quarantine of as much as 24 days as part of guidance from the Hamilton County Health Department. This sets Hamilton County apart from other school districts that are deeming teachers essential workers, which allows them to return to work immediately after being exposed to the virus if they wear a mask and do not have symptoms.

Read more about Hamilton County's plan for teachers who may be exposed to COVID-19.

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3. Area teachers decide not to return to class: In Georgia, 17 people have resigned from Walker County Schools since July 16.

Why it matters: Local teachers have stated a variety of reasons for leaving their positions, including taking other jobs and moving. However, COVID-19 has become a prominent reason for teachers to decide not to return as the school year begins. Staffing shifts over the summer are common but the virus is presenting a new challenge for administrators.

Read more about how the departures are affecting local school systems.

4. COVID-19 cases spiking in Hamilton County in people between 11 and 20 years old: Since Aug. 1, cases in the age group increased by 50%, the largest jump among the various age brackets in the county.

Why it matters: Children with COVID-19 tend to have either mild symptoms or no symptoms, and studies seem to indicate that children under 10 years of age are less effective transmitters of the coronavirus. However, infected adolescents 10 years of age and older can spread the disease in the household or in the community as easily as adults. The recent spike in this age group began before schools reopened and as cases among most other age groups flattened.

Read more about what the spike could mean for the county.

5. Tennessee lawmakers concerned about Gov. Lee's use of executive power: Some politicians believe the state leader overstepped in his executive orders.

Why it matters: Lawmakers have previously voiced concerns about Gov. Bill Lee's decisions to implement stay-at-home orders and to shut down some businesses. But this week, the governor was under fire for ideas to address the long-term impacts of the virus, such as using federal money to extend unemployment benefits for jobless Tennesseans. Such battles are likely to continue as the virus continues to impact the health and economy of the state.

Read more about what lawmakers are saying about the governor's handling of the pandemic.

What are your experiences with the coronavirus? Are you or someone you love affected by it? What questions do you have? We would like to hear from you, so please contact efite@timesfreepress.com or wmassey@timesfreepress.com.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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