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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Lookout Valley Elementary, located at 701 Browns Ferry Road, was photographed on Friday, August 2, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Writer: EOS

A staff member at Lookout Valley Elementary School has tested positive for COVID-19.

Originally believed to be one of Hamilton County's eight cases of COVID-19, school district officials confirmed that the individual lives in Alabama, therefore the individual's case should count towards Alabama's confirmed case count.

Hamilton County Schools acknowledged that the staff member had tested positive, after a press conference by the Hamilton County Health Department Friday. 

Just a week after announcing the first confirmed case in Hamilton County, health department officials confirmed there are now eight confirmed cases.

"The district wants to be as transparent as possible with families and staff during this challenging time, so we are sharing all of the information possible," spokesman Tim Hensley said in a statement.

The person has been in the Lookout Valley Elementary school building within the past 14 days, according to a press release from the district, but Superintendent Bryan Johnson said that the staff member has not been in the school building or present during student meal pick-up times this week.

"For sure as testing availability continues to increase, we are fully anticipating the potential of more positive tests and will be responding urgently. The safety of our students and school communities are of utmost importance and we will continue to work with the health department," Johnson told the Times Free Press.

Johnson added that the announcement illustrates the importance of the measures the district has taken, including closing schools, to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

"I think it reiterates the importance of the actions that obviously we took last Thursday afternoon and that [Gov. Bill Lee] reaffirmed, in regards to the efforts to close schools and practice social distancing to limit the spread of the virus," he said.

The district will assist the Health Department to identify those at the school who may have been in close proximity to the individual. Anyone who may meet this criteria will be contacted by the Health Department, according to the press release.

The school district communicated this information to Lookout Valley Elementary parents and staff by phone message and email Friday afternoon. 

Though Hamilton County Schools are currently closed until April 13, some school buildings have been open for staff use, but the district will close the Lookout Valley Elementary building for further cleaning, according to the release.

Tennessee has reported at least 231 confirmed cases in 26 counties as of Friday, March 20. Alabama has reported 81 cases across 15 counties. Neither Tennessee nor Alabama have reported any deaths from COVID-19 yet.

Hamilton County's eight cases have included a well-known pastor of a prominent downtown church and a member of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga community

The spread of the coronavirus has prompted restaurants, bars and businesses as well as schools to close statewide. Tennessee lawmakers also voted to cancel TNReady state testing this week due to the likelihood that students across the state might not return to school until at least mid-April, or even this school year. 

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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