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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Tennessee state Rep. Mike Carter and his wife Joan sit for a portrait on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 in Ooltewah, Tenn. While Carter was in the ICU battling COVID-19, Joan, who had also contracted the virus but was asymptomatic was at home, and unable to be in Carter's room.

Every week, the Times Free Press will publish five crucial 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 Oct. 16:

1. Rural areas report COVID-19 spike: While cases were declining in Hamilton County in the past two months, they were rising in less urban areas.

Why it matters: While fewer people live in rural areas, the impact of the virus can be even larger in less densely populated places. Residents of rural communities typically skew older, experience higher rates of chronic disease and are less likely to have health insurance or access to quality medical care — factors that put them at higher risk for serious and fatal COVID-19 infection.

Read more about how the virus is affecting rural areas and which places are hardest hit.

2. The terrifying journey through COVID-19 and back: State Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah speaks about his infection and recovery.

Why it matters: Before falling ill with COVID-19, Carter said he'd never been in better shape. Now, 46 days after leaving the hospital, he is still dealing with the lingering effects — fatigue, night terrors and breathing problems. Carter's doctors and nurses tell how close the local politician was to dying from the virus that has already killed more than 100 local residents.

Read more about Carter's journey battling the coronavirus.

3. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond tests positive for COVID-19: The sheriff's chief of staff is in the intensive care unit.

Why it matters: Earlier this year, Hammond questioned the effectiveness of masks to stifle the spread of the coronavirus and said his office would not enforce the fines or jail time in regard to the mask mandate. At the time of the announcement, Hammond said he was asymptomatic.

Read more about what we know about the sheriff's infection and who else may have been exposed.

4. Hamilton County overdoses spike during COVID-19 pandemic: Leaders worry about the long-term effects of the ongoing pandemic on people's mental health.

Why it matters: There have been 422 overdoses and 50 deaths in Hamilton County between Jan. 1 and Sept. 6 this year, compared to 260 overdoses and 40 deaths during the same time frame in 2019, according to data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The pandemic has made the past months increasingly difficult for people battling addiction or who are in recovery. One director of a recovery center said he is seeing an increase in people relapsing who are in their first year of recovery.

Read more about the spike in drug overdoses and how people are coping.

5. COVID-19 and the flu can damage a person's heart: Chattanooga doctors explain what's at risk when someone is infected.

Why it matters: Even people with mild cases of the coronavirus are showing signs of heart damage. Some of these effects can go undetected and hurt someone's health years later. Dr. Harish Manyam, chief of cardiology at Erlanger hospital, wants people to know the virus can affect a person's entire body.

Read more about what area doctors are saying about the long-term risks of COVID-19 and the flu.

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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