With the coronavirus pandemic spiking in Wilson County, more schoolchildren are being sent home to learn remotely and the county is renewing its efforts to encourage mask wearing.

Wilson County Schools announced Friday that Green Hill High School will be on remote learning through Thanksgiving and the Lebanon Special School District put Byars Dowdy Elementary School on remote learning Thursday.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, the daily case rate in Wilson County hit 68 per 100,000 population in the seven-day period ending Sunday. That is the highest it’s been since the pandemic began in March.

County Mayor Randall Hutto said that he and other local officials are doubling down on their efforts to get people to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash their hands frequently.

“The public needs to go back to doing everything they can to stop and slow the virus,” Hutto said.

Wilson County has had 6,168 COVID-19 cases and 69 deaths as of Sunday, according the TDH. That’s more than 2,000 new cases since Oct. 12.

“This is a public health issue,” Hutto said. “A disruption of the everyday lives of the people who live here. The elderly, those with underlying conditions — we want to protect these citizens.”

Hutto emphasized that those who contract the virus, even if they have mild or no symptoms, must be extra careful to not infect anyone else.

“If you happen to get the virus, do everything you can to prevent from giving it to other people,” Hutto said.

The directors of the two school districts say that most of the infections that are forcing schools to go to remote learning are coming from outside the schools. In-school transmission is rare because of the mask mandates and emphasis on social distancing and good hygiene.

“More than 90% of the positives are traced to the community or homes,” LSSD Director Scott Benson said Friday.

Benson said he expects to announce this week how the LSSD will handle the growing number of cases.

In a letter to LSSD stakeholders sent Friday, he wrote: “With our current pace of increasing school and community spread, we are facing challenges in continuing to navigate school as we are currently. If this trend continues, we are anticipating having to make a decision in the near future that will impact school in the traditional model.”

WCS Director Donna Wright, in her weekly Facebook chat, said Friday, “The thing that’s been the difference maker, I believe, in my opinion, has been the mask. We don’t want to move the district to remote.”

Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital is treating relatively few COVID patients — 11, of which four are in intensive care, as of Friday, according to director of community relations Traci Pope, steps are being taken to make sure capacity in the system is available.

“We consider VWCH’s capacity and ability to care for COVID patients as reassurance should Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital (VUAH) reach capacity,” Pope said in an email. “If VWCH needed additional resources for higher acuity care, patients would flow into VUAH. We cannot consider VWCH as an isolated hospital, but as part of a larger hospital system.”

VWCH did create a 17-bed unit for COVID patients in June. Pope said the hospital is in the process of opening an additional “step-down unit.”

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been preparing for the potential influx of patients,” Pope said. “We have identified several areas of the hospital that could be used to increase capacity.”

And, Pope said, the hospital supports Hutto’s mask mandate. She cited a Vanderbilt study that found death rates from COVID were lower in counties with mask mandates than in those without.

“We stand with Mayor Hutto and his efforts to curb the rising number of COVID-19 infections in Wilson County. And we are asking for your help,” said VWCH President Jay Hinesley in a statement Monday. “Please take this to heart and practice COVID safety fundamentals to protect your loved ones and yourself — wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and remember to socially distance and avoid large crowds.”

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