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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Now wearing a mask, the Tennessee American Water Company mascot Phillip D. Glass greets traffic along Riverside Drive. According to a Tennessee American Water Company press release, "...Phillip D. Glass, the icon that sits atop the company's landmark water storage tank has 'masked up' in support of the Hamilton County Health Department's directive to wear masks or face coverings in public settings to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community."

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 on July 31:

1. Hospital bed availability in Georgia: Places throughout Georgia, even counties hundreds of miles away, are looking to Chattanooga as local hospital capacity shrinks.

Why it matters: The availability of hospital beds is another example of how the local stresses from the pandemic have downstream effects on the region. Patients overwhelming a hospital in Georgia are already being transported to Chattanooga, which moves hospitals here closer to having to mobilize overflow staff and so on.

Read more about how the outbreak in Georgia is affecting Chattanooga's medical system.

2. Outbreak of cases in Georgia jail: Nearly all employees at Chattooga County Jail have the coronavirus or symptoms

Why it matters: Sheriff Mark Schrader said he has been scrambling to find employees from his department. Meanwhile, none of the roughly 38 inmates have been tested. Outbreaks in detention facilities throughout the country, including at the Bradley County Jail, have shown they can quickly become hotspots due to cramped living conditions.

Read more about how the Chattooga County Sheriff's Office is responding.

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3. July becomes deadliest month for COVID-19 in Hamilton County: On Friday, the health department announced the 18th death this month.

Why it matters: There were 15 deaths in June, now the second-deadliest month. Hospitalizations and people in the ICU with the virus remained high in July, one sign of the ongoing impact of the virus. People are often hospitalized a week or so after being exposed to the virus and can remain in the hospital for weeks. An upward trend in hospitalizations, and especially ICUs, is typically a signal that more deaths from the virus are coming.

Read more about what we learned about recent deaths.

4. White House coronavirus response coordinator visits Tennessee with warning: Dr. Deborah Birx was in Nashville this week with a message about wearing masks.

Why it matters: The White House has listed Tennessee as among a group of states in the "red zone" for the virus, meaning the testing positivity rate is above 10%. Dr. Birx, who is one of the top advisers to President Donald Trump, said she was visiting the state to encourage local leaders to take stronger steps in the face of rising cases.

Read more about what Dr. Birx thinks county mayors should do to stop the spread.

5. Where cases are rising and falling around the region: Calculating the number of new cases per 10,000 people in each county allows for comparisons between rural and urban areas.

Why it matters: Calculating the number of new cases per 10,000 people in each county allows for comparisons between rural and urban areas. The most recent data shows that Hamilton County's outbreak is not as severe as cases in Whitfield and Gordon counties in Georgia. However, several counties in Northeast Alabama are seeing drops in cases.

Read more about how the virus is impacting the counties surrounding Chattanooga.

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@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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