MANCHESTER, Tenn. (WKRN) — The first Black mayor of Manchester, Tennessee died Monday due to complications from the coronavirus.

Mayor Lonnie Norman was first hospitalized with the virus on October 1. He had just been elected to his third consecutive term of service. He was 79 years old.

“I couldn’t fathom the fact that Lonnie had passed, especially due to COVID,” said Raymond Turner, a native of Manchester. “I was under the impression that COVID was kind of a misconception. Kinda like the flu, just hyping it up. Then, someone I personally know dies from it. It’s a terrible thing, and it’s sad. He was a great guy… did a lot for the town.”

Doctors say they’ve seen a trend of COVID-19 cases growing in rural Tennessee.

“In these small communities, with a lot of covid activity, we’re seeing disease activity in the 100 to 200 new cases per 100 thousand people per day,” said Dr. David Aronoff, direct of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt Medical University Center. “Even though those counties don’t have as many people, those people are very effectively spreading COVID-19 from one person to another.”

In the last 24 hours, Coffee County saw more than 30 news cases of COVID-19. Counties like Wilson saw nearly 40 new cases per day in a two-week period.

Dr. Aronoff believes the increase in cases comes from the loosening of protocols like mask mandates.

“This pandemic is still very active and it’s very active because of silent transmission events,” Dr. Aronoff explained. “It’s active because people without symptoms, who do not know they are infected, are in fact infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and are capable of transmitting to other people.”

Norman’s family released a statement that read in part:

“COVID-19 is real and it took our beloved Lonnie Norman from us. To his fellow public officials, we say please remember your duty to keep the public safe. To our fellow citizens, we say please wear a mask, practice physical distancing, and protect public health and each other.”

Funeral arrangements have not yet been released.