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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Hamilton County Health Department worker Shelly Donahue holds a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine near the Hubert Fry Center at the Tennessee Riverpark on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Hamilton County Health Department continued distributing vaccines following the State of Tennesseeճ response plan at their Vaccination Drive-Thru Point of Dispensing.

Every week, the Times Free Press will publish five crucial 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 Jan. 1.

1. Tennessee COVID-19 vaccine plan changes: Ages 75 and up now eligible, while teachers move ahead in line.

Why it matters: Long lines of cars snaked around Amnicola Highway this week as people waited to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The Hamilton County Health Department expanded eligibility starting Thursday to include more local workers and anyone aged 75 or older. As of Wednesday, the department had administered more than 3,000 total doses.

Read more about the new vaccination eligibility and the state's vaccination plan.

 

2. Ten myths about the COVID-19 vaccine debunked by the Tennessee Department of Health: No, you aren't required to get the vaccine.

Why it matters: Rumors and misinformation are circling online about the COVID-19 vaccine, such as questions over vaccine safety and lies about microchips in the doses. This week, the Tennessee Department of Health released a list of myths to combat the falsities you may see.

Read more about the myths about the COVID-19 vaccine you may see on social media.

 

3. How Whitfield County became one of Georgia's worst COVID-19 hot spots: "I just think people should know it is very real people, and people are dying every day from it."

Why it matters: Whitfield County is not unique in that many of its residents reject policies meant to control the spread of COVID-19, such as face mask mandates. Similar stories can be found across the Chattanooga region. But what sets Whitfield County apart from other counties are the social, economic and environmental factors that make it especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19 in North Georgia and why it sticks out as a longstanding hotspot in Georgia.

 

4. All Hamilton County public schools to begin spring semester remotely: The announcement comes as COVID-19 case levels remain at record highs.

Why it matters: Hamilton County Schools students in all grades will remain in total remote instruction due to the current level of COVID-19 cases in the area when school resumes Jan. 6. The district uses a five-day average of active cases to determine which learning phase students will work in, and the current levels put the district squarely in its most restrictive phase.

Read more about the Hamilton County Schools announcement.

 

5. Tennessee ends 2020 with vaccine delays and high case counts: The state made national headlines as a hotspot in December.

Why it matters: In the final month of 2020, Tennessee ranked first in the country for new COVID-19 cases per capita, record high hospitalizations and staggering death rates. The month was the deadliest in Hamilton County, more than doubling the previous record.

Read more about the state of COVID-19 in the Volunteer State as 2021 begins.

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.

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