‘Spring break last year caused an increase in cases’: Tri-Cities region at ‘critical point’ as spring breaks begin

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Spring breaks are underway or will be soon for local students.

Regionally the Tri-Cities is doing well in terms of being vaccinated and bringing COVID-19 numbers down. But, some are worried we could be in the same position that we were this time last year.

“Spring break last year caused an increase in cases. We’ve learned a lot over the past year,” said Ballad Health Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift. “We’re in a really critical phase. So, I think we can go one of two ways. We can continue to mask, social distance, get that vaccine, make sure we’re containing spread right now before we let upon those measures.”

“We try to be careful. We also try not to be fearful so we just do the best that we can. If we’re out in public, it’s outside,” said Naomi Yenich, whose daughter attends the Early Learning Center in Johnson City. “I know not everyone takes those precautions but I’m hopeful the end is soon.”

Some are concerned about what could happen when school starts back.

“We still haven’t gotten everybody vaccinated or a large enough majority of people vaccinated and I don’t see a whole lot of people wearing masks,” said Fairmont Elementary School parent Jim Long.

Others also fear what could be brought back into the region if people travel.

“We do see the spikes with vacations. Parents are wanting to go out of town, they’re tired of being stuck in the house, the kids are tired of being stuck in the house, they want to get out. Parents
want to get out,” said St. Mary’s Catholic School mom, Paige Coleman. “Of course when you get out, you don’t always have your mask on, you don’t always think or are aware of what’s going on, you’re putting your hands on your face…anything can happen.”

Coleman’s children won’t be on spring break until April, but she says she’s thankful their school has a plan in place.

“They’ve set guidelines if you’re traveling, then you’ll have to be at home during the recommended time until you can return,” said Coleman. “They’ve also done a good job of creating a safe space for the kids in general.”

But Swift says what happens while families are on break can determine whether or not the Tri-Cities sees a detrimental impact.

“If people get tired of masking, they take the mask off, they’ve not had the vaccine, they travel, they’re exposed, they bring it back,” Swift said. “Especially if they bring back that variant strain and it takes hold, we very well could slide back into a high percentage rate, high hospitalizations and behind those hospitalizations come death.”

While the current numbers and vaccination rates in the Tri-Cities are encouraging to Swift, she says traveling safely is key.

“Hopefully if you’re eligible for vaccine, you’ve gotten that…you’re not fully protected until two weeks after that second dose,” Swift said. “So, don’t think you’ve gotten one shot before spring break and can travel and not wear a mask and not social distance.”

And if you’re traveling, check the guidelines and spread rates for the area you’re traveling to. She also suggested checking the CDC’s website for traveling tips.

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