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County commission talks COVID-19 in schools, 10K mail-in ballots

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Gregg Lawrence, Chad Story

District 4 county commissioners Gregg Lawrence, left, and Chad Story expressed concern about the means of determining probable COVID-19 cases in Williamson County.

The Williamson County Board of Commissioners heard updates on the upcoming Nov. 3 election and the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the county during its meeting on Monday.

The board heard from Williamson County Election Administrator Chad Gray during its electronic meeting. Gray shared the election commission has already sent out about 10,000 absentee by-mail ballots — more than double the usual number for presidential elections — and has already received nearly half of the ballots back, filled out.

Early voting begins Wednesday, and the county has set up eight polling locations available to all county residents regardless of their specific voting precincts. Early voting will run Mondays through Saturdays until Thursday, Oct. 29. For more information about voting in Williamson County, including information on mail-in voting, visit WilliamsonVotes.net.

After a short report on the election, the commission heard a long report on COVID-19.

Williamson County Health Department Director Cathy Montgomery said from the end of July to Friday, the health department has conducted contact tracing for about 300 school-related COVID-19 cases. She also said about 95% of all state-reported cases are lab-confirmed, meaning they are based on a positive test, and the remaining 5% are considered probable cases.

District 4 commissioners Gregg Lawrence and Chad Story expressed concern about probable cases, particularly as flu season approaches. Health department representatives said a case must meet clinical criteria, meaning a number of COVID-19-consistent symptoms must be present, and a person has to have been in contact with a known positive case within the last 14 days in order to be considered a probable case. Therefore, if someone has flu-like symptoms but has not been in recent contact with a known positive case (or vice versa), that will not be counted as a positive case without a test.

“What I don’t want you to feel is that ‘probable’ is just like, ‘Oh, we think they have COVID. They have COVID,’” said Deidre Parrish, the regional medical director for the Mid-Cumberland Department of Health. “No, it’s actually a standard definition across the country and, in fact, across the world.”

Lawrence said he’s heard from several parents who are concerned about the number of students who are being quarantined. Just before fall break, three Williamson County high schools closed due to COVID-19.

Lawrence inquired about using rapid tests to determine whether or not students who are being quarantined due to close contact with a positive case actually have the virus. Parrish said once rapid tests become more available, this may be an option.

However, Lauren Schuster, a nurse supervisor for the county health department, said students may still have to quarantine for a time before these tests would be helpful due to the incubation period of the virus. This incubation period is also why the quarantine of those who have been in close contact with a positive case tends to last longer than the isolation of confirmed positive cases.

Schuster mentioned the virus seems to be affecting high schools more than other grades because high schoolers are more mobile throughout the school day compared to elementary school students.

“An elementary school student is in a classroom with the same children, the same teachers, all day long. They eat lunch together. They attend their related arts classes together. There’s very little movement throughout the school,” she said. “There’s less opportunity for extracurricular activities, so there’s a lot less exposure going in those types of environments, whereas, for a high schooler, we’re seeing a lot more mobility throughout the school.”

Williamson County Schools' COVID-19 data can be found at WCS.edu/COVID-19.

Montgomery said the department currently has no plan to disseminate rapid tests to the schools — a decision made by the Tennessee Department of Health last week — but some COVID-19 testing sites in the county have rapid tests available. All COVID-19 testing sites in the county can be found at tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov/remote-assessment-sites.html.

District 1 commissioner Ricky Jones said he recently received a rapid test, which came back negative, but the test cost about $150. He mentioned if the county wanted to give these tests to the schools, it would have to come up with the funding.

A representative from Williamson Medical Center also shared the hospital currently has 22 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, below 50% of its COVID-19 capacity.

For more information about COVID-19 from the state health department, visit tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html. For local COVID-19 data, williamsonready.org/306/Local-COVID-19-Case-Data.

To learn more about Williamson County, visit WilliamsonCounty-TN.gov.

The full county commission meeting can be viewed on the Williamson County Television YouTube channel.

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