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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Mary Gardner wheels her 92-year-old friend Lila Arp out of Concord Baptist Church after Arp voted in the 2020 election on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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. You can also text 5Things to 4234019454 to get this weekly article texted to you each week.

Five things to know about COVID-19 in the Chattanooga region for the week ending Nov. 6:

1. Deadline for school decision looms for Hamilton County families: Area parents have until Nov. 20 to decide whether their children will go virtual or back to the classroom this spring.

Why it matters: While there's still much to learn about schools and COVID-19 transmission, so far data indicates that the risk of in-person K-12 schooling may be lower than some parents and educators initially feared. Research is finding that, in general, reopening schools has not significantly changed the trajectory of the pandemic. The vast majority of Hamilton County's COVID-19 cases in school-aged children are linked to extracurricular activities or off-campus gatherings.

Read more about the upcoming decision and what the research says about the risk of COVID-19 for children.

2. COVID-19 spikes in Hixson, Soddy-Daisy as White House urges Thanksgiving changes to stop spread: A report from Washington D.C. says local families should not gather with anyone outside of their household.

Why it matters: The spread of the coronavirus in the region is making it dangerous to celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving in the traditional ways. Instead, local health leaders are providing ideas for ways to connect with loved ones in ways that are safer than gathering around the dinner table for hours on end. Also, while the virus surges across Hamilton County, some local areas are being hit harder than others.

Read more about the guidance on celebrating Thanksgiving and learn where case counts are growing.

3. Data points to watch as Chattanooga braces for a winter COVID-19 surge: What will be key to monitor as temperatures drop in the region.

Why it matters: Case rates are higher than normal as more people move inside and coronavirus fatigue may push others to take risks. As the area enters eight months of living with the pandemic, the Times Free Press is monitoring certain data points like test positivity rate to better understand how the virus is spreading in our community.

Read more about which pieces of COVID-19 data will be most important to monitor this winter.

4. Georgia is not testing enough to understand the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, according to a White House report: Tests in the state have fallen recently, alarming those in the federal government.

Why it matters: In recent weeks, Georgia has struggled to test for the coronavirus, a key metric to measuring the spread of the virus and keeping people safe, at the levels necessary to protect its population. A report from the White House COVID-19 Task Force this week raised alarms about the possible effects of these lapses. Local officials say the issue is waning interest in testing by members of the public.

Read more about what we know about the White House report and what the state-level data tells us about testing in Georgia.

5. Inconsistent mask mandates and focus on individual responsibility affects Hamilton County's COVID-19 response: Cases are surging in Chattanooga and the surrounding region.

Why it matters: Hamilton County is surrounded by counties in Tennessee and Northwest Georgia that do not require residents to wear masks. An infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University warns that masks, which are proven to stop the spread of the virus, will be much more effective when they are widely worn in a region, not just in a single county or city, due to the many ways people travel for work or fun.

Read more about what maskless counties around Chattanooga could mean for the local efforts to stop the spread.

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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