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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A worker talks to a patient after taking a sample at the Alstom COVID-19 testing site on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 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.

Five things to know about COVID-19 in the Chattanooga region for the week ending Sept. 25:

1. 'We're literally life support': Chattanooga respiratory therapist shares what it's like to treat COVID-19 patients

Why it matters: Jerry Czerkasij, a 35-year respiratory therapist, offers a unique perspective on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as someone who is on the front line. He described how treating the coronavirus is different from other respiratory diseases and how the virus can have long-term impacts on people's health.

Read more about what a local health care provider is seeing while treating COVID-19 patients.

2. Hamilton County completes about 80,000 COVID-19 tests: Pandemic persists into sixth month as testing facility at the old Alstom plant continues operations.

Why it matters: As long as the virus is circulating in the community, and especially without a viable vaccine available, testing remains the best way to ensure public safety. Earlier this week, leaders from the Hamilton County Health Department opened the testing facility for media tours to explain the process as the county passes 80,000 tests administered.

Read more about what those testing for COVID-19 want you to know.

3. Tennessee officials say school shutdowns are hurting already-struggling students: The typical "summer slide" is even worse this year, they said.

Why it matters: This week Gov. Bill Lee said preliminary data on the impact of the extended closure of schools from March into early August caused an estimated 50% drop in proficiency rates in third-grade reading and a 65% drop in math proficiency. Schools already struggling are expected to face even greater setbacks now from the unexpected pandemic closures.

Read more about how area schools are responding to the issue.

4. How the Chattooga County Jail dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak: A look inside the North Georgia response to a surge in local cases.

Why it matters: In a week, nearly all of the 15 full-time employees at the Chattooga County Jail had either tested positive for the coronavirus or were out sick with symptoms. Jail administrators were left scrambling as jails and prisons, with their often crowded conditions, have been hotspots for the virus throughout the country. The response in the jail was part of a countywide shutdown to stop the virus from spreading.

Read more about how Chattanooga County responded this summer.

5. Research is showing a strong connection between obesity and serious COVID-19 infection: Meanwhile, obesity in the country is at an all-time high.

Why it matters: According to a new report, Tennessee and Alabama were among the 12 states with the highest self-reported rates of obesity. Research is also showing that obesity is one of the underlying health conditions associated with the most serious consequences of coronavirus infection, including hospitalization and death.

Read more about how obesity puts people at risk for more serious COVID-19 infections.

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@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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