Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / RaeKenya Walker gives out backpacks and other supplies inside the pavilion. Hamilton County Schools kicked off the 2020-2021 school year, on Saturday August 8, 2020, with the district’s third annual Back to School Bash at the First Horizon Pavilion. This year’s event was a safe, no-contact drive-thru for families to receive a free backpack with school supplies. The 2020 event is made possible through the generous partnership of the Nehemiah Project, BlueCare Tennessee, State Farm, and United Way.

Every week, the Times Free Press will publish five essential things to know about the coronavirus pandemic in the Chattanooga region. For more case count numbers and other COVID-19 data related to Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, visit You can also text 5Things to 423-401-9454 to get this weekly article texted to you.

Want more local new recaps? Sign up for our new weekly health care newsletter, or one of the Times Free Press' other newsletters, at

Five things to know about COVID-19 in the Chattanooga region for the week ending Sept. 18:

1. Six months in review: Sunday marked six months since Hamilton County's first confirmed COVID-19 case was announced.

Why it matters: In the 26 weeks since the coronavirus was first detected in Chattanooga, thousands of people lost their jobs, at least 89 people have died in Hamilton County and life across the region has changed dramatically. The Times Free Press compiled photographs and revisited some of the biggest stories throughout the past six months.

Read about and view photo galleries of the region's biggest news stories since March.

2. Loved ones lost: COVID-19 has ended more than 360 lives in the Chattanooga region, including 89 in Hamilton County and 59 in Whitfield County.

Why it matters: August proved to be the deadliest month of the pandemic so far, with 122 lives lost due to coronavirus across the region. But often the details of those deaths remain a mystery. To mark six months since the first confirmed local infection, the Times Free Press sought community input from families and friends in order to remember and tell the important stories of at least a few who have died.

Read the stories of three local residents who died due to COVID-19.


Text 5Things to 4234019454 to get the five things to know about COVID-19 in the Chattanooga region texted to you each week.

3. Tennessee senior living facilities can soon allow visitors: Tennesseans who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities could be reunited with their loved ones in person as soon as Oct. 1, if certain conditions are in place at the facility, according to new guidelines from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Why it matters: Facilities that have been free of COVID-19 infections for certain periods of time will be able to relax their visitation rules and allow more inside activities to take place. Although strict visitation policies were implemented to protect seniors — who are especially vulnerable to serious COVID-19 illness and death — they're also seen as a source of many negative consequences, such as increased loneliness, depression, isolation and physical and cognitive decline in residents.

Read more about Tennessee's new visitation guidelines for long-term care facilities.

4. Businesses support mask mandate: Chattanooga area business groups are supporting Hamilton County's requirement that most people wear masks in public spaces until at least early October.

Why it matters: The government order to require facial coverings in stores, bars and restaurants has drawn some criticism. But Chattanooga's biggest business groups all voiced support for extending the Hamilton County mask mandate. Leaders of the business groups said wearing masks helped limit the spread of the coronavirus and allows the Chattanooga community to better continue or resume doing business and serving visitors safely.

Read more about what local business groups think of the mask mandate.

5. Lee defends maskless outing: Gov. Bill Lee found himself defending not wearing a mask earlier this month.

Why it matters: Lee has told Tennesseans that "wearing a mask is the simplest action you can take to fight the spread of COVID-19," but he was seen not wearing one earlier this month at a boat parade to support President Donald Trump on Tims Ford Reservoir near Winchester, Tennessee. Asked at his weekly news conference by a reporter if that goes against his often-cited wear-a-mask mantra, Lee said, "I think I do model" the health recommendations.

Read more of Lee's comments on face masks this week.

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 or