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Posted on: August 6, 2020

Shelby County Health Department Expands COVID-19 Communications Team

SHELBY COUNTY, TN – Recognizing that communications and messaging to the general public is a critical part of to the COVID-19 response, the Shelby County Health Department is expanding its communications team in both personnel and capabilities.

Among the 141 new Health Department positions funded under the CARES Act are three positions designated to focus solely on COVID-19 communications and community outreach activities. The new CARES Act-funded positions include a COVID-19 Public Information Officer and two COVID-19 Public Information Specialists. Two of those positions have been filled and the new team members have been on-boarded.

Chip Washington was selected for the position of COVID-19 Public Information Officer. He brings a wealth of experience in broadcast journalism, public relations, and government service. He most recently worked as Senior Communications Specialist in Corporate Communications at MLGW, and previously served four years as Public Information Officer for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

One of the Public Information Specialist positions has been filled by former television meteorologist and science educator Austen Onek. Austen was selected for his wide-ranging skills in video production, social media, graphic design, and experience in and enthusiasm for science education.

Chip Washington, Austen Onek, and a second yet-to-be-hired Public Information Specialist will take primary responsibility for the Health Department’s COVID-19 communications as of September 1, 2020.

Chip Washington will send the Shelby County Health Department’s Daily COVID-19 Update on an interim basis beginning August 7-13, 2020, eventually taking on that duty full-time by September 1st.

Joan Carr retains her position as Shelby County Public Information Officer, and will focus on strategic communications for the entire Health Department. 

“The Health Department is glad to be able leverage CARES Act funding to expand its communications efforts regarding COVID-19 and other health challenges facing our community,” said Alisa Haushalter, Health Department Director. “We know that communications is key to our community’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and will be critical to the eventual distribution of a vaccine. Our new communications team members bring valuable skills and experience to bear in our fight against COVID-19 and other public health threats.”

For more information about the Health Department’s COVID-19 response, please visit our Coronavirus Resource Center page: www.shelbytnhealth.com/coronavirus. Or call the Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline at 833-943-1658.

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