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More than two weeks after the outbreak was first detected in the county, Chattanooga and Hamilton County are looking to forge a more united front on COVID-19 response through a new joint task force.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger announced the formation of the team to help coordinate the city and county's response to the virus outbreak late Monday.
The task force will be led by Rae Young Bond, CEO of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, and will be used to brief the mayors as they make policy decisions to address the virus locally, according to Berke's office.
"In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic like this one, it's never been more important that we listen to experts. Mayor Coppinger and I feel the best way to continue to make our community as safe and healthy as possible is to bring everyone together," Berke said in a releass. "Our goal is to give our community timely, informed updates about our vulnerable populations, how our medical facilities are preparing, and other information related to the spread of the virus in our area."
The group will meet weekly and brief Berke and Coppinger on the latest developments regionally, nationally and in local hospitals, medical facilities, and testing locations.
"In an emergency situation like this there is no county or city divide, we're all one community," Coppinger said. "It's vital we keep our residents safe and healthy, and bringing together the best subject-matter experts in our local healthcare industry will help Mayor Berke and I do that."
The formation of this group comes weeks into the disaster response which has been handled quite differently by Coppinger, who has taken a softer approach to recommending social distancing behavior, as opposed to Berke, who has issued several enforceable executive orders mandating certain behaviors to promote social distancing.
While Berke and Coppinger have both said they are working closely with each other when asked about the contrast, the task force is the first example of any joint county and city action since the pandemic struck the area.
The group also loops in representatives of the largest healthcare providers in the area, which have operated without sharing many details publicly throughout the crisis.
Bond, who has served as an appointed spokeswoman for the area's three major hospitals throughout the crisis, suggests the group will improve upon the lack of information being shared publicly.
"We are all working around the clock to keep our community safe," Bond said in the release. "This Task Force brings all the brightest minds into one setting and it will allow us to provide more detailed information to our community on this rapidly changing situation."
The Task Force's first meeting will be Tuesday, March 31, and meeting notes will be provided to the public at cha.city/covid.
TASK FORCE MEMBERS:
Dr. Kelly Arnold - Founder & Clinical Director, Clinica Medicos
Becky Barnes - Hamilton County Health Department Administrator
Dr. Matt Gibson - President & CEO, Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation
Dr. Timothy Grant - Chief Medical Officer, Parkridge Health System
Dr. Martina Suttles Harris - Assistant Dean of Nursing & Allied Health at Chattanooga State Community College
Dr. Gregory Heath - Guerry Professor of Public Health, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Dr. Keith Helton - CEO, One to One Health
Dr. William Jackson - President & CEO, Erlanger Health System
Dr. Robert Magill - Chief of Staff, Parkridge Health System
Angel Moore Esq. - Vice President of Population Health & CEO, Erlanger Community Health Center
Tom Ozburn - President & CEO, Parkridge Health System
Janelle Reilly - CEO, CHI Memorial Hospital
Dr. Colleen Schmitt - President, Galen Medical Group
Dr. James Sizemore - Chief of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, UTCOM Chattanooga and Medical Director, Infection Prevention, Erlanger Health System
Dr. Christopher Young -Vice Chief of Staff, Erlanger Health System
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.
How we report on coronavirus numbers
Confirmed case data only provides a snapshot of the coronavirus outbreak and shouldn't be taken as an accurate reflection of how many people are currently infected.
Laboratories are required to report positive COVID-19 test results to local health departments, such as the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, as soon as results are available in order to support a rapid response. The Tennessee Department of Health and other state department numbers are updated at set times during the day, so there may be a lag in the reporting of state level data.
It's impossible to know how many COVID-19 tests are pending, since both public and private labs are used for testing, and providers do not report when a sample is collected. Negative results are sometimes available depending on the agency and its method of tracking COVID-19.
The Times Free Press uses numbers from credible county, state, national and international public health agency sources in our coverage of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases. The newspaper also may report on COVID-19 cases that the newspaper has independently verified in an effort to keep our readers as informed as possible.
All data are subject to variations and changes based on access, availability, methods and other factors that can affect data collection, making health data rarely perfect.
— Elizabeth Fite