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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Justin Freeman slips past Barbara Ellison in the kitchen car. The staff of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum spend hours preparing the many facets of its Valentine Dinner Train. All available seats for the two-hour train ride were filled, at 25 percent capacity because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 Feb. 19.

1. Hamilton County expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility: County moves in step with state, expands age range and adds teachers and related occupations.

Why it matters: The state announced Tuesday it would expand vaccine eligibility to people age 65 and older, as well as people in phase 1b. The new phase includes K-12 teaching staff and child care workers, among others. The move comes after weeks of pressure from teachers to make them eligible as in-person teaching happens more frequently. Expanding eligibility also means tens of thousands of new people can get in line in a system already burdened with high demand.

Read more about the increasing demands placed on vaccination infrastructure and who will soon be eligible for vaccines in Tennessee.

 

2. Weather delays COVID-19 vaccine shipments across Chattanooga region: Winter storms force appointments to be rescheduled in the Tennessee Valley.

Why it matters: While much of the attention was on the devastating winter storm in Texas, weather patterns across the U.S. caused delays in vaccine distribution, including around Chattanooga. On Tuesday, health departments across Tennessee and in Northwest Georgia had to cancel vaccinations because of the winter storms. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Thursday more delays could happen over the next few months until the season changes.

Read more about the delays and what is being done to reschedule the shots.

 

3. Hamilton County leaders confirm the COVID-19 variant is in the county: It was the first public acknowledgment of the variant after weeks of uncertainty.

Why it matters: For the first time on Thursday, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger confirmed publicly that a much more contagious variant of COVID-19 has been detected in the county. Researchers at the Baylor School told the Times Free Press said in January that they detected a variant of the virus but until now local and state officials had not confirmed it.

Read more about what you need to know about the possible variant in Chattanooga.

 

4. Pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in Chattanooga region ramping up: But, nearly two months in, confusion and concerns remain.

Why it matters: Each state has its own vaccination plan. Yet, communication between federal and state officials, as well as state and local officials, is inconsistent. The process of receiving doses varies widely between individual counties and providers. Those tasked with getting shots in arms say locals remain confused about who can get a dose and when.

Read more about local struggles in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine.

 

5. A look at the price of a pandemic: Scenic City businesses grapple with seeking stimulus loan forgiveness and pursuing more aid.

Why it matters: Applications for the latest round of Paycheck Protection Program funding for businesses are open until the end of March but some local business owners are weighing their next moves. The pandemic has placed increased pressure on many businesses, which had to balance letting go of staff, maintaining a safe work environment and keeping their doors open. While the pandemic nears its one-year anniversary in Chattanooga, many business leaders do not see a clear path forward.

Read more about what local businesses are dealing with and what help might be on the way.

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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