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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Dr. Aaron Cohen, a critical care specialist at Erlanger, is photographed at the end of his shift on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. "In the last two to three weeks, it's gotten to the point where it's scaring us. We're now coming into work and wondering if we're going to have double or triple the amount of patients that we had the day before," Cohen said.

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.

Five things to know about COVID-19 in the Chattanooga region for the week ending Nov. 27:

1. The fears of Chattanooga area health care workers are coming true: The surge across the region is stressing those on the front lines.

Why it matters: Health care workers in the area warned surrounding communities they needed to do more to slow the spread of COVID-19. In an October letter, hospital leaders urged local politicians to implement a mask mandate in their counties. Few changes were made, and the virus spread rapidly in rural areas before beginning to surge in cities like Chattanooga, too. The past month has seen historic levels of spread throughout our region.

Read more about what health care workers hoped elected officials would do.

 

2. COVID-19 vaccine, 'the one ray of hope,' could reach Tennessee by mid-December: The first shipment of the highly anticipated treatment will be on its way soon.

Why it matters: Tennessee is expected to receive doses of Pfizer's vaccine, which tests show is 95% effective, the state reported this week. Dr. Lisa Piercey, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, said the first shipment will be between 80,000 and 100,000 doses. Each person needs two doses of vaccine spaced several weeks apart, meaning the first allotment will cover between 40,000 and 50,000 people.

Read more about how the vaccine will be rolled out in the Volunteer State.

 

3. Tennessee hospitals discuss sending COVID-19-positive staff to work amid worker shortages: Surging case levels are pushing health care systems to the brink.

Why it matters: Staffing shortages due to a nationwide coronavirus surge are forcing hospitals to make difficult decisions, including whether to ask employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 to come into work. Tennessee has yet to implement such a rule, but many hospitals in the state are at or near capacity and cannot risk losing much-needed staff, many of whom have not had a break since the pandemic hit in March.

Read more about what could be on the table if COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise.

 

4. North Georgia continues to struggle with spread of the coronavirus: Whitfield and Murray counties are No. 1 and No. 2 for new cases on a per capita basis in the state.

Why it matters: What happens in the areas surrounding Chattanooga affects the entire region. Northwest Georgia has struggled to contain the coronavirus for months with cases now surging in two nearby counties more than anywhere else in the state. Four residents have died in a Dade County nursing home since the start of the month.

Read more about the still rising case count in North Georgia and what we know about the nursing home deaths.

 

5. Contact tracing in Chattanooga faces uphill battle as COVID-19 surge continues across the region: Investigators are seeing more close contacts, less participation than earlier this year.

Why it matters: The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga contact tracing team is winding down operations as the university closes its fall semester. However, the team plans to help the local health department as cases continue to surge around Chattanooga. The extra help comes at a time when people are having close contact with more people and are less willing to help contact tracers identify areas of exposure.

Read more about how local contact tracers are dealing with the continued hurdles of their work.

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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