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The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department is pleading for citizens to be responsible and cooperative in efforts to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic that has found its way here.
After the head priest at a prominent downtown Chattanooga church was identified Friday as the first case of the novel coronavirus in Hamilton County, officials at the health department have been working to identify those who may have been exposed to the virus.
While the department is making calls and working with patients to identify and notify those at additional risk, individuals who know of their own risk factors are being asked to self-identify to the health department.
"We want to make it clear that the residents of Hamilton County are our partners," Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes wrote in an email. "We're asking everyone to view these public health measures as concrete actions people can take to stop this pandemic."
The release says that those feared to have been exposed will be contacted via phone and, in cases where phone calls or messages are not returned, the department will use public notices to identify those who need to quarantine.
This aggressive identification approach comes from a lack of cure for the virus, which the department says makes prevention of spread the best safety measure.
On Saturday, the department asked for those who encountered the priest to practice social distancing and monitor themselves for symptoms.
Anyone who attended events at St. Paul Episcopal Church (located at 305 W. 7th St., Chattanooga) between Feb. 23 and March 13, or attended a Chattanooga Bar Association meeting held at the Hamilton County Courthouse (located at 625 Georgia Ave., Chattanooga) on Feb. 28, and who has not already been contacted by the health department should be aware of a possible exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19. If it has been more than 14 days since attending either the church or the meeting, one's risk for having coronavirus is very low, but those people are still asked to practice social distancing and track their symptoms.
The health department cautioned that if anyone has had respiratory symptoms including fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing within that 14-day period, they should call the health department hotline at 423-209-8383. If it's been less than 14 days and they had close contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19, such as being within 6 feet of the person for more than 15 minutes, and yet they remain symptom free, they should self-quarantine at home and monitor their health.
According to the state, two more COVID-19 tests from Hamilton County came back negative on Sunday, slowly chipping away at fears of the priest having spread it within the community.
Still, only seven tests have come back for the county, despite hundreds of people being exposed to the priest in the weeks between his contraction and positive results, a number reflective of the slow rollout and limited availability of tests in state and across the country over recent weeks.
For more information about COVID-19, please call the hotline call center at 423-209-8383. The hours for the coming week are Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m., however, hours may expand to meet the need, so refer to the Health Department's website for future hours.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.