NASHVILLE — If you haven’t already received a mysterious, unsolicited package of seeds in your mailbox — with Chinese lettering on the envelope — don’t be surprised if one shows up soon.
Persons in more than 30 states so far have reported receiving strange packages with Chinese lettering on the exterior and, inside, plastic baggies of seeds of random plant varieties.
The whole thing could be some sort of marketing scheme or foreign internet scam, officials say, but concern is growing that there could be some deeper, more sinister purpose, with officials warning persons to not open the packages, plant the seeds, or to attempt to contact the sender or return the seeds.
The packages appear to have been shipped from mainland (communist) China and contain Chinese wording on the outside container that supposedly advertises an assortment of products ranging from toys to jewelry.
But inside are no toys or jewelry ... just small bags of the mysterious seeds, and that has agriculture officials from coast-to-coast concerned, and warning recipients to not plant the seeds because they could be invasive or harmful species that, once introduced into an area — as was the case with kudzu in America in the 1930s — become difficult if not impossible to eradicate or control.
Some of the seed appears to be from sunflowers, while others look like pumpkin, squash, or other species of flowers or vegetables.
But, some also warn, that is no guarantee that the seeds are what they appear to be, with some speculating that — while specifics on testing are not yet available at this point — the seed could possibly be infected with fungi or diseases that could, if introduced into the U.S. environment, cause widespread crop failures.
Consumers across Tennessee are reporting similar deliveries.
“While we have no reason at this time to suspect that these seeds were sent with ill intention, we want to take every precaution to be sure an invasive or otherwise threatening plant species doesn’t take hold here,” Tenn. Dept. of Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M., said.
Imported plant materials go through rigorous testing and inspection to ensure they are not carrying any plant disease or pests and do not pose any threat to health and environment, Hatcher said, and so far, no evidence has been found to indicate the unsolicited seeds have gone through appropriate inspection, or if they are even the type of seed they are labeled to be.
“If citizens receive seeds they did not order, they should not handle or plant the seeds,” he added. “Instead, seal the bag of seeds into two plastic bags and send all packaging to TDA. If the seeds have already been planted, TDA recommends digging up the seeds or sprouted plants. They should be double-bagged and placed in the trash. It is not advisable to compost the seeds or sprouted plants.”
TDA said that it’s partners at USDA believe the seeds may be a “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.
Persons can send unsolicited seed packages to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, attention Plant Certification. The original envelope as well as any paperwork or enclosures and the bag of seeds should be included along with the recipient’s name, contact information and full address.
Mail to: P.O. Box 40627, Nashville, TN 37204.
If a person prefers not to send in their seeds, notify TDA that the unsolicited seeds were received. Call Plant Certification at 615-837-5137 or email Plant Certification Administrator Anni Self at firstname.lastname@example.org. Provide your name, contact information, and where you live, as well as what you received and any photos. Seeds should be double-bagged and sealed, and placed in the trash for disposal.
TDA continues to monitor this situation and is working closely with federal partners and partners in other states to monitor the situation, Hatcher said.
A small, 17.5-acre island located on the Holston River within Church Hill’s city limits will soon have its name changed from “Negro Island” to “Silver Lake Island.”
This comes after the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (USBGN) recently contacted the city and asked for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to recommend a new name for Negro Island, as the USBGN said the current name is “a name considered offensive” and is “racially offensive.”
“They’re asking the board to vote to rename this island, and they gave us two names we could use: Silver Lake Island and Solitude Island,” Church Hill Mayor Dennis Deal told the BMA at their July meeting. “We could name it whatever we wanted to, but those are the two names that they threw out there. They feel like it is appropriate to rename it. I support this 100% and hope the board will too.”
City Recorder Josh Russell told the board that this particular island is located in the Silver Lake area of the Holston River and inside the ‘Solitude Bend.’
“That’s why they gave us those two names,” Russell said. “We can name it ‘Silver Lake’ after the community or ‘Solitude’ after the bend there to the East of the Island.”
Negro Island was likely named by the Phipps family that owned it in the mid-1800s.
The name is first found in records after William Phipps willed the island to his son James in 1845.
According to a genealogical study, the Phipps family purchased that island from Margaret Surguine, a descendant of Surgoinsville founder James Surguine.
Negro Island, along with several of the other islands around it, is privately owned and is located just south of the Church Hill VFW and Derrick Park. It is also the largest island in this particular bend in the river.
“There’s another island that is across the river that they also call the same name (Negro Island),” Alderman Michael Bell told the board. “It depends on where you look. Certain places call this one Negro Island, and other places call the other island by that name.”
Russell clarified that the largest island in the Solitude Bend of the river is the only island that is officially named Negro Island in the USBGN registry.
Deal asked how this name change would work, since the islands are privately owned, and Russell explained that this name change will only change the official name in the USBGN registry and the U.S. Geographic map.
“The only question I have is, if somebody owns it and has the deed, do we leave it up to these people to get their deed changed, or how does that work?” Deal asked.
“We’re not really changing the name, we’re just giving them a preference on what the city would like to name it,” Russell said. “They will move it along the chain from there.”
Bell made a motion to choose “Silver Lake Island” as the new name, and this passed unanimously.
Board discusses splash pad opening
In other news, the newly installed splash pad in Church Hill’s Derrick Park has been completed, but it is still not open to the public.
“With a lot of regret, I hate that we couldn’t open that splash pad,” Alderman Keith Gibson told the board. “Under the circumstances, with the uptick in the virus, the Mayor and I talked about it and agreed that this was not the time to open it. I would hate for us to open that and then contribute to [spreading the virus]. I am hoping that, here before long, it (COVID-19 cases) will die down enough that we can get it open for part of this year.”
The city had originally scheduled a grand opening and ribbon cutting for the new splash pad to take place on July 17. However, this was postponed due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.
The grand opening will be rescheduled at a date and time to be determined.
Gibson also told the board that the picnic shelters, which are also part of the many planned improvements to Derrick Park, have been ordered and are scheduled to arrive at the end of September.
The city also has plans for a new playground, band shell and additional parking. They also purchased ADA (Americans with Disabilities)-accessible playground equipment, are planning to build a new bridge over the creek and will erect a new flagpole with lighting.
Gibson also noted that the new playground equipment is scheduled to arrive the week of July 27.
A Tuesday-morning press release from Church Hill Health Care and Rehab Center confirmed that 13 employees and 19 residents have tested positive for COVID-19.
On Wednesday morning, CHHCRC reported that one of the residents who tested positive for COVID-19 has passed away.
This cluster of cases contributed to the largest spike in new COVID-19 cases in Hawkins County over a four-day period since the pandemic crisis began in March.
Just between Friday and Monday, 62 new cases were reported in the county. 13 were reported on Friday, 12 on Saturday, 24 on Sunday, 13 on Monday, 18 on Tuesday, and 12 on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday, the county had a total of 254 cases confirmed and probable since March; 300 positive tests; 4,551 negative tests; 174 active cases; 77 recovered; and three deaths.
COVID-19 related death
“We are heart-broken to report a resident of Church Hill Health Care peacefully passed away Sunday at our facility,” Administrator Gina Harris said in a Thursday morning press release. “The resident had several underlying medical conditions and was recently being treated. As part of this treatment, a COVID test was performed. We were notified on Tuesday, after the resident’s death, the results of the COVID test were positive. No additional personal information or details will be released about the individual. The Hawkins County Health Department will report this incident as required by the State of Tennessee.”
She added, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. I request that you please respect the family’s privacy and our Church Hill Health Care family by allowing the residents and staff time to grieve.”
On Wednesday morning, the Review spoke with Dr. David Kirschke, who is the Medical Director for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department.
“The death certificate is not finalized, so we haven’t seen what they have listed as the cause of death,” Kirschke said. “The office of the state medical examiner is involved in reviewing death certificates where coronavirus is listed, so they may weigh in as well.”
32 positive tests
Harris also told the Review that the Tennessee Department of Health notified CHHCRC over the weekend that these aforementioned 32 tests had come back positive.
“In an effort to diminish risk to our residents and healthcare workers and in accordance with executive orders issued by our Governor, we have continued to conduct weekly COVID-19 testing of our employees,” she said. “In addition, we screen all employees upon arrival to work and mid — shift to ensure a healthy work environment. Any COVID positive lab results are promptly reported to the Department of Health to ensure appropriate actions are taken to safeguard both our employees and residents.”
Mass COVID-19 testing
Last week’s mass testing tested over 100 employees and nearly all 90 residents.
“These employees (who tested positive) reported mild or no symptoms of illness prior to testing,” reads the release. “The affected staff members are currently off work and will return according to guidance received by the Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control.”
In regards to the residents who tested positive, the release noted that, “The residents affected have been quarantined since the first symptoms were observed, and we are happy to share all residents are doing well. We continue to conduct frequent monitoring and screening of our residents.”
The release also noted that the facility will continue regularly testing employees and residents.
Kirschke told the Review that “there are active cases there (at CHHCRC) now.”
Handling asymptomatic cases
CHHC’s press release noted that several of the employees who tested positive for COVID-19 had shown little to no symptoms prior to testing.
Though Kirschke told the Review that he could not talk specifically about the COVID-19 outbreak at CHHC, he explained the role his office plays in general when a nursing home experiences an illness outbreak.
“The governor, several weeks ago, had ordered all nursing homes to do weekly testing of all of their staff, so that has been going on at all nursing homes across the state,” Kirschke said. “We definitely recommend testing anyone who has symptoms. We tell any nursing home to screen their employees every day. Anyone who has symptoms, they send them home and test them. They also should be screening their residents. Any resident who develops symptoms compatible with coronavirus should be tested.”
However, Kirschke has also noted in published reports that people with asymptomatic cases can spread COVID-19 without realizing that they have it.
“With the weekly testing of workers, and most of these people being asymptomatic, the nursing home assures us they’ve been screening people — all the employees when they’re coming in,” he has said in published reports. “A lot of these people who have tested positive have been asymptomatic, and there’s not really any way to detect that except for this weekly testing which they have done and are now excluding those positive people from the nursing home. In the community we have a lot of people in workplaces, also in other healthcare (services), that don’t have symptoms. Everyone can spread coronavirus two days before they have any symptoms. One of the biggest challenges with coronavirus is that it can spread before people show symptoms and are aware they have it.”
He also told the Review, “Anytime someone is positive for COVID-19, whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic, we advise them to stay home in isolation for 10 days,” he added. “That goes for pretty much any work setting.”
TDH handling nursing home outbreaks
“Whenever we hear about a case within a nursing home, we will contact that nursing home and have a discussion about how to deal with the positive cases and their contacts,” Kirschke said. “We’ll often have the state health department infection control experts talk with the nursing home staff about preventing spread.”
He also added, “particularly our state infection control from the state health department will go into a nursing home to assist if they have a large number of cases.”
Kirschke noted that he and his staff have not personally visited CHHCRC in relation to this outbreak, but added that “that may occur.”
Controlling the outbreak
“Any time there is a positive case in a nursing home, the actual cases—anyone who is positive—has to be isolated,” Kirschke said. “If it is staff, they have to stay home for 10 days. If it is patients, they have to be isolated away from other non-positive patients for at least 10 days. Then, at least 24 hours after they feel better.”
“We have worked diligently to safeguard our facility”
“We have worked diligently the last several months to safeguard our facility,” the CHHCRC press release read. “We believe testing the residents and employees will assist us in identifying any asymptomatic cases; helping limit the risk to our residents.”
It added, “Thank you for your prayers, encouragement and support during this difficult time. We are grateful to all the Healthcare Heroes at Church Hill Health Care who have worked tirelessly and bravely providing care for all our residents. Please continue to pray for the residents and employees of our facility and others across the nation as we work to provide loving care for the most vulnerable entrusted to us. In an effort to relay accurate information within the community and answer any questions or concerns, please contact the facility Administrator directly. Our mission is to keep the residents, families, staff and community informed.”
This story will be regularly updated as more information becomes available.
COVID-19 clusters in long term care facilities are regularly updated on TDH’s website. As of Wednesday evening, the CHHCRC cluster had not yet been added, though the COVID-19 related death had been added.
The CHHCRC is located at 701 W. Main Blvd. in Church Hill. For more information, contact Administrator Gina Harris at 423-357-7178.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Health’s Northeast Regional Health Office is reminding residents of the availability of free testing for COVID-19 in the community.
There are a variety of organizations providing free COVID-19 testing throughout the Northeast Region. Some organizations require people with health insurance to use it for the free test. Testing for each organization is based on capacity of available staffing and test kit availability. Some organizations have an age requirement. Many organizations require people seeking testing to complete a survey online or to be assessed over the phone and to schedule an appointment.
Tennessee Department of Health local health departments provide drive-through testing Monday through Friday at these locations in the Review and Eagle’s readership area:
Greene County – 9 a.m. – Noon (Please call 423-798-1749 to pre-register.)
Hancock County – 2 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Hawkins County, Church Hill – 10 a.m. –11 a.m.
Hawkins County, Rogersville – 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Washington County – 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
People of any age can be tested at health department locations, and insurance is not required. Details such as addresses and phone numbers for Tennessee’s testing sites are available for each county on the Tennessee Department of Health website at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov/remote-assessment-sites.html.
The Regional COVID Information Line at 423-979-4689 is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. — 4:30 p.m.
Other providers in the Review and Eagle’s readership area offer COVID-19 testing for the community throughout Northeast Tennessee:
The Sullivan County Regional Health Department has a COVID-19 Information Line at 423-297-2777 open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Testing is conducted on Tuesdays by appointment only between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Blountville office. People of any age can be tested and insurance is not required.
Ballad Health maintains the 24/7 Nurse Connect Hotline at 833-822-5523 to screen people and schedule an appointment for COVID-19 testing. People seeking testing who have health insurance will be asked to provide details about coverage and people of any age can get tested.
East Tennessee State University provides COVID-19 testing through the Downtown Day Center at 202 W. Fairview Avenue; call for an appointment 423-439-7371, and Johnson City Community Health Center at 2151 Century Lane; call for an appointment 423-926-2500.
CVS Pharmacy Minute Clinic provides COVID-19 testing appointments for people who complete a survey online and qualify based on guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://cvshealth.com/covid-19/testing-locations. Those with insurance will be asked to use it and those without insurance can bring their Social Security number and driver license or state-issued identification card to apply for the federal program to cover COVID-19 tests for the uninsured.
Walgreen’s provides COVID-19 testing appointments for people who complete a survey online and qualify based on guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.walgreens.com/findcare/covid19/testing. People with insurance will be asked to use it and people without insurance can bring their Social Security number and driver license or state-issued identification card to apply for the federal program to cover COVID-19 tests for the uninsured.
James H. Quillen VA Medical Center in Johnson City provides testing for veterans. Call 423-926-1171 ext. 3472 to be screened and make an appointment for a COVID-19 test.
Boones Creek Urgent Care has limited testing and supplies. Call 423-268-2606 Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. at 4100 N. Roan Street, #3 in Johnson City.
TDH has additional information available at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated information and guidance available online at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.