Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / University of Tennessee at Chattanooga nursing student Lauren Buffington carries a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine near the Hubert Fry Center at the Tennessee Riverpark on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 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

Five things to know about COVID-19 in the Chattanooga region for the week ending Jan 8:

1. Tennessee to start an appointment system for COVID-19 vaccines next week: The doses will no longer be administered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Why it matters: Rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Tennessee has been bumpy so far with limited supply and thousands of state residents eager for a dose. On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Health announced an online appointment tool that Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said would curb the large numbers of people waiting in line for hours only to be turned away due to exhausted supplies.

Read more about the appointment tool and when it may be launched.

2. COVID-19 mutation detected in Chattanooga region: What Baylor School researchers discovered is likely the U.K. variant.

Why it matters: The Baylor scientists said this week they detected virus mutations in the samples they have studied. Their findings, if confirmed, would mean the variant has been circulating in Southeast Tennessee since before it was formally identified in the United States. The variant appears to spread much more quickly but does not cause more serious or deadly illness than other COVID-19 variants.

Read more about what the Baylor scientists are discovering in their lab.

3. Hamilton County's most at-risk residents feel frustrated by COVID-19 vaccine rollout: "Who in the world would come up with something as stupid as that?"

Why it matters: Some elderly residents said the current vaccine distribution location on Amnicola Highway is not accessible and the prospects of waiting in line for hours to receive a dose is not practical for them. Older people are more at risk of severe illness or death from the virus and they are frustrated with how the vaccine rollout has gone. Some reported feeling unmotivated to get it now.

Read more about how at-risk residents of the county are reacting to the vaccine distribution.

4. Officials urge patience as Hamilton County COVID-19 vaccinations continue: Accessibility will improve, they said.

Why it matters: Cars were lined up for vaccines hours before shots were scheduled to begin this week and the line Wednesday was closed well before sunrise. Local officials are asking people to be patient since supplies of the vaccine remain limited.

Read more about what local officials are saying about vaccine distribution.

5. COVID-19 hits Northwest Georgia leaders as virus continues to spread: Over a dozen employees affected in the Murray County government.

Why it matters: Murray County hit an all-time high in new cases on a seven-day average on Jan. 4 with 42. Cases in the county have been rapidly rising since early December in the rural county, and neighboring Whitfield County is still trying to deal with an outbreak that was the worst in the state for weeks after Thanksgiving.

Read more about the outbreak in Northwest Georgia.

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