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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A vehicle enters the Chattanooga State Community College campus on Thursday, Nov. 12, 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. 13.

1. Hamilton County COVID-19 outbreak reaches dangerous levels: Multiple records broken this week as surge passes previous highs.

Why it matters: A multi-day streak with more than 210 new infections a day pushed cases levels to all-time highs this week as Hamilton County broke records for daily new infections, active cases, confirmed hospitalizations and test positivity rate. The surge comes as local health experts warn pandemic fatigue is causing residents to take risks that would have been unthinkable months ago but are now happening during a time of greater risk.

Read more about this week's surge and why it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

2. Models show your risks of contracting, dying from COVID-19: Experts say risk-taking is on the rise as residents try to compensate for loss amid pandemic.

Why it matters: Thanks to modeling from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Hamilton County residents can measure their risk of getting COVID-19. For example, there's an approximately 20% chance that at least one COVID-19 positive individual is present if a group of 10 people gather. Bump the group size up to 25 people and it's a 42% chance. For a group of 50 people, the likelihood increases to 66%. However, those chances are likely even higher now since that modeling is based on data from before this week's surge in cases.

Read more about what the model tells us about COVID-19 risk in our community.

3. Whitfield County commissioners opt not to implement a mask mandate: Vote against the order comes as one of their fellow commissioners is in intensive care with the virus.

Why it matters: Two commissioners from the county have tested positive for the virus, with one in the intensive care unit, as the group voted against implementing a mask mandate. The move contradicts the plea from one of Whitfield County's most respected public health officials, Dr. Pablo Perez of the Hamilton Health Care System, who has said repeatedly that masks are effective in stopping the spread. The North Georgia county remains one of the worst areas for the outbreak in the tri-state region and has been singled out in statewide reports for its high infection rates.

Read more about why Whitfield County will not require its residents to wear masks.

4. Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine is looking 90% effective: Early data suggests the treatment could be useful in protecting large populations.

Why it matters: Pfizer's vaccine is among several currently being researched for widespread use. Early data of the treatment, released this week, showed promising signs of protecting individuals from infection. However, the vaccine still needs to be studied on a larger population and monitored for possible side effects before it would be approved. The best case scenario would have the vaccine available to some people in the spring.

Read more about what the vaccine data tells us about its effectiveness.

5. Area schools could return to more virtual options as local surge worsens: Hamilton County Schools does not commit to changing its strategy yet as active cases near transition phase.

Why it matters: The number of active COVID-19 cases in the community, a key metric in determining area schools reopening strategy, is nearing the period that would trigger a phase change and send more children home for virtual learning. As of Thursday afternoon, Hamilton County Schools would not say definitively whether parents should expect a change in the coming days.

Read more about what the surge could mean for area students.

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.

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