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Life in General

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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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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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Civic Center recreation facilities to be closed August 1-4

From a City press release:

The Oak Ridge Civic Center Recreation building will be closed Saturday, August 1 through Tuesday, August 4, 2015, for gym floor refinishing. This includes the gymnasium, game room, all meeting rooms and the indoor swimming pool.

The indoor swimming pool will reopen on Wednesday, August 5. The offices, meeting rooms, and game room will reopen Thursday, August 6, at 8:00 am. The gym will remain closed until Monday, August 10.

Visitors to the Civic Center Recreation Building will need to use the main entrance that faces the fountain. Staff will be located at the Scarboro Community Center at (865) 425-3950 and the Oak Ridge Senior Center at (865) 425-3999.

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Special recycling event today (Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014)

Celebrate America Recycles Day — Sponsored by Keep Anderson County Beautiful

Saturday November 8, 2014

10 AM to 2 PM

95 Oak Ridge Turnpike in Oak Ridge (next to Willow Ridge Nursery)

Materials to be Collected for Recycling:
Computers and peripherals (processors (CPUs), optical drives (CDROM, CDRW, DVD, etc), network and communications hardware (modems, routers, hubs, etc), drives (hard drives, floppy), keyboards, laptops, mice, monitors, network hardware (servers), paper tape readers and punchers, plotters, printers, tape

Home Electronics:
No “white goods” (no refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, etc.)

We do accept TV’s (flat panel, plasma,LCD’s etc but NO TV cabinetry), microwaves, mixers, phones (corded, cordless, and cellular), entertainment goods (VCRs, DVD players, radios, speakers.
Please Note: $20 charge for CRT (wide) computer monitors & TVs (because of toxic screen phosphors and lead)

Personal documents for shredding (sponsored by ORNL Federal Credit Union)

Used rechargeable batteries (no alkaline or auto batteries)

Cell phones

Compact fluorescent bulbs (no long tubes)

Books (no textbooks, please!)

Eyeglasses

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The Friendship Bell is special

20100926173814 The International Friendship Bell in A.K. Bissell Park is special. It’s unique, it has substantial aesthetic value, it symbolizes principles (peace and friendship) that everyone ought to embrace, and it is quintessentially Oak Ridge. If anything erected in the city during the decades I’ve lived here deserves to be revered in the future as a historic landmark, it’s the bell and the structure that houses it.

I was very disappointed by the news that the wooden bell structure had deteriorated and was no longer safe. The bell will be “out of commission” for some time — until the community rebuilds its support structure. I am one of the many people who believe that the structure should be rebuilt according to the original aesthetic design, but with structural members that will not succumb when exposed to the elements. Like the bell itself, which is decorated with images of both Japan and Tennessee, the structure is not purely Japanese in its design — it’s a blend of Japan and Tennessee. Architect Jon Coddington designed the bell house to incorporate elements of traditional temples in Japan and traditional cantilever barns in Tennessee. The blend of Tennessee with Japan in the structure’s design emphasized the bell as a symbol of international friendship — and the design was an important element of the campaign to dispel fears of local residents who saw the bell as a Buddhist religious item or as some sort of “apology” to Japan for Oak Ridge’s role in the Hiroshima bombing. I hope that the original structure can be reassembled around (and disguise) a rugged steel frame that can support the bell for many decades to come.

This is an “interesting” issue for city government. The bell was cast and the structure was built with private donations (here and in Japan), and it was placed on public land as a gift to the city. That makes it a city responsibility now, although the original donors still have a strong sense of ownership. I didn’t donate to the bell when it was created (I was a lot younger then and hadn’t lived in Oak Ridge very long — and this was a project of an older generation of Oak Ridgers), but I will happily donate now to the structure’s restoration because I appreciate the bell’s meaning and value. The bell housing can’t be restored without the help of local donors, but it may not be necessary to find donors to cover the whole cost. I was pleased to see that city government and some citizens with a particular interest in the bell have been creative in seeking additional funds and have discovered a grant-making foundation that looks like an excellent prospect for assisting our community with restoring the bell. The Japanese World Exposition 1970 Commemorative Fund awards matching grants for projects around the world that are related to Japan and that promote international mutual understanding. At Monday evening’s City Council meeting it was reported that it probably is too late to apply for this year’s round of grants, but Oak Ridge should be an excellent candidate for a grant next year.

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