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Hospital status: We need to take this seriously

Here are some data from a report released last Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hospital service areaCOVID patients per 100K populationICU COVID patients per 100K populationHospital OccupancyICU Occupancy
Oak Ridge, Tenn.461095%91%
Knoxville, Tenn.36785%89%
Maryville, Tenn.41696%88%
Harriman, Tenn.17374%95%
Crossville, Tenn.331061%100%
National Averages30559%72%

These statistics are disturbing. If we need medical care for any reason, it is increasingly likely that our area hospitals will be unable to treat us.

We need to slow the spread of this virus for the benefit of everyone. Wear those masks — and behave as if everyone you interact with (including you!) is infected with coronavirus.

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Are the growth rates in local coronavirus cases moderating?

After the steep increase in case rates that I observed the middle of last week (see my video on the city Facebook page), the growth in 7-day average coronavirus case rates in Anderson and Roane Counties seems to have leveled off. Do not think that a reduction in the growth rate justifies complacency — Harvard University public health experts say that a case rate over 25 means we should have a stay-at-home order!!

I want to hope that the moderation in case growth is real, and that it is happening because people have been taking this situation seriously and are wearing masks and avoiding close contact. I do hope the trend continues. Let’s keep it up, folks!

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How many cases in Oak Ridge?

I have been asked why I have talked about data on coronavirus in the counties, instead of in our city of Oak Ridge. The answer is that the state does not provide information for the city.

However, they do publish some data that starts to answer the question about Oak Ridge. Maps are published periodically that give ranges of values for case rates by zip code. The latest map of recent conditions shows that as of July 29, the 37830 zip code had a 21-day case rate between 347 and 425 cases per 100,000 population. That works out to 104 to 127 new cases in Oak Ridge during the 3-week period July 9 to July 29 (about 5 or 6 new cases every day, on average). Another map shows that from the beginning of the pandemic through July 31, Oak Ridge has had a total case rate between 741 and 1029 cases per 100,000. According to my arithmetic, that is somewhere between 222 and 309 total cases since this began.

With school reopening, the Oak Ridge school district has pledged to keep the community informed about cases in our schools. The state health department is not doing this statewide, but they have started publishing a new data set (by county) on coronavirus cases in kids ages 5 to 18 (school-age kids). The numbers for our two counties will be sobering information for our school leaders who have been working to start the school year safely:

  • In the last 13 days (July 19 to 31), 45 Anderson County kids and 27 Roane County kids were reported with new positive tests for COVID-19.

Best wishes to everyone as we try to keep each other safe!

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Roane & Anderson Counties zoom past Knox County in coronavirus incidence

CountyJuly 1July 13July 20July 27
Anderson4.812.416.531.3
Roane2.96.99.832.9
Knox8.315.921.825.9
7-day average of new cases per day per 100,000 population

The trends I described the other day looked worrisome enough, but now the rates of new cases per capita in Anderson and Roane Counties have exploded — and we have zoomed past Knox County.

Oak Ridge City Council sent a resolution to the Governor, passed by unanimous vote and signed by all Council members, requesting City government authority to mandate masks. No response yet….

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Coronavirus is spreading too fast

The state of Tennessee data on coronavirus in our area paint a disturbing picture. The Oak Ridge area is now starting to see the same rates of infection (although fewer cases) as places with larger populations that have been labeled epidemic red zones. Until a few weeks ago the per capita rates of infection were low, but the situation is changing fast. With many stores and restaurants open under near-normal conditions, schools reopening next week, and no local mask mandate, the virus is likely to continue finding people to infect. There are many different ways to analyze disease data; the metrics I am presenting here are ones that are used to indicate the spread of infection.

As of July 1 (just a little more than three weeks ago) Anderson County had reported 26 new cases in 7 days. Numbers like that were worrisome to residents (the numbers were much larger than it had been earlier), but for those 7 days the county rate of new cases per day per 100,000 people was (according to my calculations from state data) just 4.8 — comfortably smaller than the 7-day average rate of 8.3 that neighboring Knox County was looking at that day, when the county health board voted to mandate wearing of masks in public settings to try to control further spread. On July 1, Roane County had a 7-day average case rate of only 2.9.

Since July 1, case rates have increased dramatically in Anderson and Roane Counties. Rates here are now starting to surpass Knox County:

7-day average cases per day per 100,000 population

CountyJuly 1July 13July 20July 23
Anderson4.812.416.522.6
Roane2.96.99.822.3
Knox8.315.921.822.3

The Knox County Health Department is rightly saying it is too early to tell how well the mask order is working, but I think that mask order might explain why case rates are not growing nearly as fast in Knox County as in Anderson and Roane.

The percentage of COVID-19 PCR tests that are returned positive (another measure of virus spread) has also been growing, so that local positivity rates now match those in Knox County. This table shows 7-day averages for the periods ending on the date shown:

CountyJuly 1July 13July 20July 23
Anderson3.0%5.8%8.8%8.3%
Roane2.1%4.1%5.5%8.0%
Knox4.5%7.0%9.2%8.3%

Without effective measures (like near-universal wearing of masks) to minimize spread of infection, I expect that these numbers will continue to grow rapidly. At the moment, the City of Oak Ridge cannot do much to change the situation. The Tennessee governor has preempted cities from acting to address COVID-19 (cities normally have authority to regulate behavior detrimental to public health, but not for COVID-19), and both the governor and our county mayors have declined to mandate precautions. Unless we want to shut everything down again, or deal with an increasing burden of illness in our community, I guess we can only hope — and pray — that people, businesses, and institutions will adopt sensible measures to prevent disease transmission.

Please stay safe!

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Election results, November 2018

Election Day is over, and the unofficial results show that the four City Council incumbents were re-elected to four-year terms.

Here are the vote totals, in rank order:

  • Warren Gooch 7,916
  • Kelly Callison 7,665
  • Ellen Smith 7,132
  • Rick Chinn 6,616
  • Tim Stallings 6,219

So it’s time for me (and Warren, Kelly, and Rick) to settle in for a new four-year term on City Council!

Thanks to everyone who supported me in this election.

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Letter of endorsement: “Why repair something that doesn’t need fixing?”

Gene Dunaway submitted this letter to the editor to The Oak Ridger, and was told it was “too late” to publish. I love the way he expresses himself here, and I appreciate his endorsement of the incumbent “team” on City Council, so I’m publishing his letter here and on my Facebook page.

Dear Editor:

We can all agree that Oak Ridge is not Mayberry RFD. We don’t have a Sherriff Andy Taylor. We don’t have a Barney Fife directing traffic. But we have a real barber, Jim Breeding at the Arcade Barber Shop, who actually cuts hair. We also share at this exact point in time, via paraphrase, a more congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering than here in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

While I don’t expect our citizens to gather in mass at city hall and burst into joyful song about our fair city, we do have the opportunity to express our appreciation to current city council members standing for re-election.  Kelly Callison, Rick Chinn, Warren Gooch, Derrick Hammond, and Ellen Smith have earned the right to continue “running” our elected government.

We have a certain civility between the city and the various federal entities operating within our borders. Our economy is growing. The various city departments are responsive to the needs and requests of our citizens. In turn, these departments are also being treated with respect as to meeting their desires for improving their services.

Each of these individuals has his or her own idea of improving what Oak Ridge should do as a governmental body. But each of them shares a vision of unity which has led to our positive outlook as a city. Why “repair” something that does not need fixing?

Respectfully submitted,

Gene R. Dunaway

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Residents need more money in their pockets

At Thursday evening’s League of Women Voters forum for state legislative candidates, one of the questions was about increasing minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Tennessee has no state minimum wage, so the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour applies here. Minimum wage isn’t a local government issue, since state law prevents cities and counties from mandating a minimum wage, and anyway it wouldn’t make sense for a place like Oak Ridge to require a wage higher than that in the community next door.

At the forum, incumbents Rep. John Ragan and Sen. (and Lt. Gov.) Randy McNally, both Republicans said that the market should determine rates of pay, not government. Their opponents, Democrats Richard Dawson and Stuart Starr, both supported increases in the minimum. I’m disappointed by the incumbents’ opposition to a higher minimum wage, because I see the inadequate incomes of many local workers as a serious challenge for our whole community. Oak Ridge has far too many hard-working citizens who are having difficulty making ends meet without public and charitable assistance. I said as much in one of my responses to the Progress PAC questionnaire:

The biggest challenge I see … is that too many people don’t have enough money.  [This is not only a problem for these people, but also for our housing, schools, businesses, and civic affairs.] …The U.S. economy no longer generates jobs that pay the kinds of wages to low-skilled workers that earlier generations received. … I believe that we need a higher minimum wage in Tennessee, but city government can’t do that on its own…

The summer I was 17, I had a retail job that paid the federal minimum wage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Calculator, the hourly wage I received back then was equivalent in buying power to $10.36 in September 2018. That’s substantially more than the current federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Notably, a full-time worker getting $10.36 an hour should be able to afford a place to live here in Oak Ridge (unlike full-time workers getting $7.25, who are getting turned down by landlords who judge that they don’t make enough money to pay rent).

Over the last 80 years (since it was first enacted in 1938), the U.S. minimum wage has set a floor on the wages and salaries for all American workers (employers who want workers with more than minimum qualifications typically need to pay more than the minimum in order to attract and retain good employees), and helped create and support the middle class. I think our nation and state need to start raising that floor again, because hard-working people should not have to depend on charity to survive, and they deserve to have the resources to be good parents to their children, be good customers for business, and good contributors to the community at large.

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Compare candidates’ responses to Progress PAC questionnaire

Four of the City Council candidates responded to questionnaires from the Progress PAC and participated in interviews with the organization’s board members. Visit the Progress PAC Facebook page to read our questionnaire responses and compare candidates.

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Amazing voter turnout

Crowded parking lot at Midtown early voting site
I have voter numbers for the first 4 days of early voting in the Anderson County part of Oak Ridge:

  1. 673 on the first day of early voting (October 17)
  2. 610 on October 18
  3. 671 on October 19
  4. 199 on October 20 (Saturday, polls open just 3 hours)

That’s 2153 in total — nearly 14% of the total registered voters! Amazing.

And it was still very busy this morning!

ADDED Tuesday, Oct. 23: 648 Oak Ridgers in Anderson County voted on Monday.

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