Washington County GOP cancels Roe retirement party as pandemic rages in region

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Plans for outgoing U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s retirement party have been scrapped for now as the region reckons with surging COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Turney Williams, Roe’s friend and the chairman of the Washington County GOP, said he made the final call this week to cancel the party, originally planned for Saturday.

“The risk was not worth the benefit, if even one individual became ill from a retirement celebration, I would have too much guilt, I couldn’t handle it,” Williams, who is also a physician, said.

Williams said officials with the Washington County GOP are looking to reschedule Roe’s retirement party for sometime in spring 2021, and that the new party date would be announced as the nation eyes a potential COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months.

New COVID-19 cases hit an all-time high this week, with northeast Tennessee reporting a record 472 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.

Williams said the planned party would have hundreds of guests in attendance. A COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology predicts that an event in Washington County with 100 attendants would yield a 98% chance of contracting COVID-19, based on current cases per capita.

Williams said that while the world waits on a vaccine, he believes it’s important to heed the advice of health professionals across the country.

“It’s a very real virus, it’s a big problem,” he said. “It did not go away on November 3rd as some people were thinking.

“We want everybody to stay healthy, I think they should wear their mask and practice social distancing. If you don’t have an event that you have to go to, then don’t go to it, stay within your circle of friends and everyone should try to stay healthy.”

The Tennessee Department of Health has reported 1,151 new COVID-19 cases since Monday, meaning that about 6.5% of total cases reported in the region has been reported in the past four days.

Officials with Ballad Health warned against large gatherings at a press conference on Wednesday as COVID-19 hospitalizations continued soaring to all-time highs in the region.

Roe began his political career in Johnson City, serving as mayor from 2007-2009. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009, serving six terms before announcing his retirement earlier this year.

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