Hawkins mayor questions social distancing scorecard

Jeff Bobo • Apr 21, 2020 at 6:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee went on the offensive against Ballad Health Sunday morning, questioning an April 13 report on the social distancing success of area counties.

The Ballad report titled “Appalachian Highlands Physical Distancing Scorecard” graded nine Northeast Tennessee counties and 10 Southwest Virginia counties on their success in reducing physical contacts in select non-essential locations as of April 11.

Hawkins County was among nine counties in the study that showed a reduction in select non-essential activities at less than 25%, the lowest score in the study.

Joining Hawkins County in the “25% or less” category were Cocke, Unicoi, Carter and Johnson counties in Northeast Tennessee; and Scott, Dickenson, and Tazewell counties in Southwest Virginia.

Social media

Lee responded to the Ballad study in a Facebook posting Sunday morning.

“As the Mayor of Hawkins County, I issued a stay at home order before the Governor did,” Lee said in his post. “I think Hawkins County is doing a great job with the social distancing. All restaurants are closed for dine in and all non-essential businesses are closed.”

Lee added, “(Ballad CEO Alan) Levine said there are 1,300 team members that will be furloughed. He said about 1,100 of those positions are in Tennessee and about 200-250 positions are in Virginia. Why not put some of those employees in the trauma units where patients are lined up and down the hall with long waits?”

“Aggregated, and anonymous cell-phone data”

The Times News reached out to Ballad for a response to Lee's remarks, as well as an explanation on how the statistics in the study were calculated.

On Tuesday, Ballad spokesperson Meaghan Smith issued the following response: “Ballad Health produces regular reports on the effectiveness of physical distancing efforts in the Appalachian Highlands using free, aggregated, and anonymous cell-phone data made readily available to everyone in the public by Descartes Labs and Google. We are grateful to our local leadership for the role they have taken to improve the region’s physical distancing to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Data verification questioned

Lee, who had also requested the source of the Physical Distancing Scorecard from Ballad, received a copy of Ballad's response via email as well.

Lee responded by criticizing Ballad for not doing their “own research” and how the company verified the data on which the scorecards are based.

All other counties in the study showed a reduction in select non-essential activities of between 26 and 50%, including Sullivan, Washington, Greene and Hamblen in Northeast Tennessee; and Lee, Wise, Washington, Russell, Buchanan, Smyth and Wythe in Southwest Virginia.

Reducing the total distance traveled

Another aspect of the study showed the success of each county in reducing the total distance traveled by population in the seven days prior to April 13.

Hawkins County was among seven Northeast Tennessee counties to fall within the 51-74% reduction category, along with Sullivan, Washington, Hamblen, Greene, Cocke and Carter. Unicoi and Johnson counties were in the “75% or higher” category.

In Southwest Virginia, Scott, Wise, Washington, Smyth, Tazewell and Wythe counties were in the 51-74% reduction category; while Lee, Dickenson, Buchanan and Russell scored 75% or higher.

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