Reopening businesses doesn't mean COVID-19 has gone away

J. H. Osborne • Apr 28, 2020 at 8:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Monday marked the first day many retail businesses could reopen in Sullivan County. It was also the first day restaurants were allowed to reopen dining rooms. Owners and operators must follow guidelines from state and local health officials in order to be open to the public. Sullivan County officials are reminding the public to continue hygiene and personal space guidelines because COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, is still here. 

“The disease has not gone anywhere,” Sullivan County Regional Health Department Director Gary Mayes said. “It is still present in our community.”

Mayes said the numbers of cases in Sullivan County and the region demonstrate the success of the public’s response to the shutdown that ended on Monday.

“We’re proud of the response from residents and businesses in the county and across Northeast Tennessee,” Mayes said. “And we are in a much better position than we were in in February. We have better surge capacity planning with Ballad Health System, more personal protective equipment and access to ventilators.”

Contact tracing

“We are increasing testing capacity in Sullivan County and throughout the region,” Mayes said. “What would be very helpful to local health departments, if we need to do contact tracing when a test comes back positive, is if local businesses keep a contact list of their customers they’ve had close contact with. Or for citizens to keep a log of where they have been and who they have been in contact with. It would be very helpful should they become sick or test positive for COVID-19. One of our staff would then make contact to see who all they’ve had a chance to spread the disease to and that allows us to follow up with all those folks and that is how they control and contain and isolate the disease.”


“In Sullivan County, we are advising if you go out in public and areas where other people can interact, everyone should wear a mask,” Mayes said. “A cloth mask or a surgical mask; and not be in groups greater than 10.”

Social distancing

“As we open up and implement the governor’s guidelines, our citizens will need to continue to social distance (stay six feet apart) and keep washing their hands and following other hygiene practices such as not touching their face, mouth or eyes,” Mayes said. “And not be in groups greater than 10.”


If you find out you’ve been around someone who tests positive or becomes sick with COVID-19, how do you gauge whether you were “exposed” and potentially a threat yourself?

“Our staff is very good at making those determinations. and it really needs to be on a case-by-case basis,” Mayes said.


The Sullivan County Regional Health Department continues to offer free drive-thru testing for COVID-19.

To make an appointment, call 279-2777.

Testing hours are Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the department’s Blountville office (154 Blountville Bypass), and testing will be available from 9 a.m. to noon at the Slater Center in Bristol (325 McDowell St.) on Thursday, April 30.

The test type

The testing method will be a nasopharyngeal swab and results could take five to seven days. This is the test where a swab is inserted into one of your nostrils. Mayes said some people find it uncomfortable, but it only takes a couple of seconds. Some who have had the test said it is painful.

What the test tells you

This is not the “antibody” test. It will show a positive result only if you are currently positive for COVID-19. The antibody test, which will reveal if someone has already had the virus, is not being given during this effort. But Mayes said the health department expects to begin offering that test soon.

Why testing is important

Testing as many people as possible will help health officials get a clearer picture of how many cases there are in communities across the region and the nation, Mayes said. The numbers also help health officials better understand how contagious COVID-19 is in particular areas and gives insights into how well mitigation efforts like social distancing are working.

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