Well, that didn't take long. Tennessee opened, masks came off and people returned quickly to pre-COVID life. Restaurants and bars packed in the patrons. And those commute times got longer. We were on the rebound. But hold up, folks. What a lot of us weren't doing was getting a vaccination (more on that later). With Tennessee's full vaccination rate stubbornly sitting at 40% and the delta variant of the coronavirus spreading rapidly across the state, COVID case numbers and hospitalizations are spiking, prompting local public health leaders to warn of a third wave of the disease.
And while the state has done a good job of vaccinating the elderly — among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, other populations are lagging, especially younger folks, who appear to be taking the brunt of COVID infections these days. And that is where Tennessee finds itself in the news this week.
Applications Now Being Accepted for BlueSky Tennessee Institute
Program presents opportunity for students to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a job offer from BlueCross
By Brad Leon
BlueSky Tennessee Institute
We are entering an exciting phase of our groundbreaking effort to expand the state’s technology talent pool with the opening of applications for the BlueSky Tennessee Institute.
BlueCross, in partnership with East Tennessee State University (ETSU), announced the BlueSky Institute earlier this year to provide students with the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in computing (concentration in information systems) in 27 months and receive a job offer from BlueCross.
BlueSky Institute is an innovative approach to develop much needed technology talent for BlueCross. It will also address a lack of technology talent in the state. Tennessee has about 4 IT job openings per year for every in-state graduate qualified to fill them.
Students will attend classes on site at
BlueCross headquarters in Chattanooga.
I started my career as an educator at Teach for America. I then went on to run performance managent for more than 60 schools in Shelby County. From my experience, I know that successful education programs require support and leadership. BlueCross and our partners at ETSU are committed to providing an enriching, supportive environment as a central part of the BlueSky Institute.
Our students will attend classes in a new facility at the BlueCross corporate campus in Chattanooga, where they’ll integrate classroom learning with real-world skills training in coding and cybersecurity. They will also receive mentorship from BlueCross team members who are committed to their success.
For students interested in pursuing a career in technology, BlueSky Institute offers a unique program that connects them with an accredited university that’s been recognized as offering the best computing degrees in Tennessee and the opportunity to embark on a meaningful career. I look forward to welcoming the first cohort of the BlueSky Institute to Chattanooga next summer.
More about BlueSky Tennessee Institute
The state has halted vaccination outreach to adolescents (those 12 and up are eligible now to get the COVID vaccine; children younger are not expected to be eligible until late fall), the top vaccine official in the state Department of Health was fired, and on Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee doubled down on both developments. Reaction has been swift and severe. The Volunteer State has been the butt of late-night jokes, public health officials are stymied, and local and national opinion writers have slammed these actions.
Results from this month's Power Poll put survey respondents solidly in the “We did what?” camp.
In response to the question, “Do you agree with the state Health Department’s decision to halt vaccination outreach to adolescents?”, 78% of Power Pollers said “no,” while 11% said either “yes” or “don't know.” The responses from respondents to the same question in Nashville and Knoxville were slightly stronger than Chattanooga's: 81% said no in Knoxville, and 90% said no in Nashville.
The July Power Poll survey, conducted Monday through Thursday, drew 67 responses from various business, community and government leaders. The survey was sent to 109 Power Poll members and had a 61% response rate.
The monthly survey gauges what influential business, civic, education and nonprofit leaders and elected officials are thinking. While the survey is in no way considered a scientific poll, its results offer insights into the opinions and beliefs of key decision-makers in the area.
Chattanooga City Councilwoman Carol Berz is among elected leaders dismayed by recent developments.
“Tennessee's decisions regarding the vaccine are unfortunate and short-sighted. Obviously the economy won't be immediately hurt, as there are no restrictions. However in the long run, because Tennesseans are only 30-40% vaccinated — and children specifically are exempt — herd immunity cannot occur,” she wrote. “This is a health issue — not a political one, and I wish my state were among the more enlightened ones.”
Survey respondents worried that the state's actions could cause problems with our early and uneven recovery. Seventy-eight percent said “yes” to the question: “Are you concerned that the state Department of Health's actions will lead to a surge of new cases, leading to more hospitalizations and deaths and possibly affecting in-person schooling and business operations?” Another 13% said “no” and 9% said “don't know.” In Knoxville, 62/% were “very concerned” about a surge in cases, 21% were “somewhat concerned” and 17% said they are “unconcerned.”
Power Poll respondents also are concerned that the state's missteps could negatively affect Tennessee's business recruitment: In response to the question, “Do you think that the decision [on outreach] could be harmful to economic development efforts in the state?,” 70% said “yes;” 24% said “no” and 6% didn't know.
Almost all Power Poll respondents said they are fully vaccinated — 97% in Chattanooga and Knoxville, and 99% of respondents in Nashville. In Tennessee, 85% of those 65 and older are vaccinated and 47% of those aged 18-64 have gotten their shot(s).
The spike in COVID cases, spurred by the delta variant, is being called a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.
Local activist Franklin McCallie summed up the feelings of many when he wrote, “Five cruelest words for Tennessee: '99.5% of deaths are unvaccinated'” as quoted in a recent Times Free Press.
Mark McKnight, who heads Reflection Riding, wrote that “this time around, the pandemic is both sad and preventable. … This recent decision to stop vaccine outreach seems particularly harmful to Tennesseans. ...This is madness.”
Public health experts note that the efficacy of the vaccines remains high, even though so-called “breakthrough” cases are making the news. The vaccines are preventing hospitalizations and deaths, statistics show.
Health department Administrator Becky Barnes reminded area resident that access to vaccines is not a problem.
“Our community has built great resources for vaccinations … access should not be a reason for not getting vaccinated,” she said earlier this week.
Contact Chris Vass, public editor at the Times Free Press, at email@example.com.