Council Concerns About COVID Case Reporting; First Responders Vaccinations Mandatory

Chattanooga, TN – During the Chattanooga City Council Strategic Planning Meeting, council members raised questions about the Health Department’s reporting of COVID-19 case data and about vaccinations for First Responders. 

District 4 Councilman Darrin Ledford expressed concerns about the data reporting for COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County. 

“Are we getting the data updates in real-time or is it coming in batches, are they grouped together?” Ledford asked. 

Ledford stated that the information the Health Department releases along with the backlog of data has become quite a lot for the City Council to process. 

“This has become quite the thing in our house to digest and research.” 

Katie Wells, from the Mayor’s Office, stated that the data updates come as quickly as the Hamilton County Health Department staff can input them. 

“These systems that the Health Department and the State Health Department use weren’t exactly prepared for a pandemic.  So they are working at maximum capacity.  But there are certain backlogs in data and information. Through certain processes, there is a delay in getting the information out there.” 

However, Wells stated that the information from the Health Department is still the best source of information for citizens to access to understand the landscape of COVID-19 in the community. 

Ledford also asked if there is any plan to separate the overall data from that of assisted living case data where the number of cases appears to be climbing. 

“We seem to not want to identify it or even separate it out into its own category,” Ledford said. 

Wells said, “I’m not aware of any breakdown of the data.” 

However, she did express that may be outside her knowledge base. 

District 1 Councilman Chip Henderson asked if Public Works employees who go out on a daily basis would be included in the set of First Responders who get the vaccine.   

Chattanooga City Chief Operating Officer Maura Sullivan said, “We understand from the State that Police, Fire and Ambulance are the First Responders they are classifying but that information is still evolving.” 

Sullivan expressed that she has made a personal request that Public Works be included in the First Responder designation as they were during 9/11 but she has not heard back from the State. 

District 9 Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod asked, “Do we know if it is mandated for our first responders to take the vaccine or is it optional?” 

Sullivan stated that legally the Health Department can mandate that first responders take the vaccine. 

“We are going to be working through an optional status at first just because we won’t have enough vaccine for every single person in our first responder cohort immediately,” Sullivan said. 

She stated that when enough vaccines arrive in Hamilton County, the vaccine will become mandatory for first responders. 

Coonrod said, “If you choose to make it mandatory, because I know there are a lot of people who choose not to get vaccinated…do we have anything in place for that?  We don’t want to lose people because they don’t want to get vaccinated.” 

Sullivan stated there are some legal exclusions for vaccinations but stated, “We already have some vaccinations that are mandatory for our employee workforce depending on where you work and the types of things that you work around.  And there are exclusions to those based on religious or other considerations.” 

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