Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Dr. Chris Smith, who has received both vaccination shots, talks about the response to COVID-19 at the testing center at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.

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 March 12:

1. Hamilton County will close Alstom site for COVID-19 testing: Health department focus turns to vaccines.

Why it matters: After being the headquarters for Hamilton County's COVID-19 testing efforts for eight months, the Alstom site on Riverfront Parkway will close Saturday as the county transitions it to become a vaccination site. The announcement comes as record-low numbers of people are being tested each day and vaccine supplies are increasing.

Read more about the decision to close the Alstom site and where testing is still available.

2. Tennessee governor blasts $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief as unneeded: Lee says the country 'didn't need it.'

Why it matters: During an event Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee criticized the recently approved $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. He said the government was increasingly telling states what to do without asking for their input on things like relief money. The governor also criticized the stimulus package's distribution of money to states, which is based on unemployment numbers.

Read more about what the governor had to say about the relief money being sent to local governments and Tennessee residents.

3. Chattanooga area patients with chronic conditions relieved at newfound COVID-19 vaccine eligibility: After months of waiting, they can get a dose.

Why it matters: In Tennessee's first vaccination plan, people with underlying health conditions were in line after health care workers. By the time vaccines arrived in the state, those individuals were behind groups like long-term care facility residents and teachers. People with underlying conditions face increased risk of serious infection or death from the virus, and some felt overlooked in Tennessee's vaccination efforts. On Monday, they became eligible for doses.

Read more about what Chattanooga area residents said about finally being eligible for the vaccine.

4. Fully vaccinated people can gather without masks: CDC puts out new guidance as vaccine supplies grow.

Why it matters: Until this week, people who had received both doses of the vaccine were asked to continue social distancing and wearing masks. But on Monday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are fully vaccinated can safely gather with other fully vaccinated individuals and people who are at low risk. This was good news for vaccinated grandparents looking to see their grandchildren.

Read more about the guidance and what you should know if you're fully vaccinated.

5. UTC School of Nursing head reflects on COVID response on one-year anniversary: 'The one thing we've learned from this whole process is to be flexible'

Why it matters: One year ago, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga closed its campus while students were on spring break due to the coronavirus, which hadn't yet arrived in Hamilton County. Classes transitioned to fully remote learning, and students did not return to campus until the first day of the fall semester in August. A year later, one of the school's leaders in its fight against COVID-19 reflects on lessons learned.

Read more about how UTC responded to coronavirus in the past year.

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