Tennessee tops 1-month COVID  hospitalization  high in 2 weeks

NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s top health official said Monday that just halfway through August, the state has already shattered its single-month record for new COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told reporters the surge in COVID-19 patients “really tips the scales” in hospitals even if there aren’t as many people currently hospitalized with the virus as there were during the January peak.

She said hospitals were already pretty full before the latest resurgence through the delta variant and the facilities are struggling with staffing shortages and workers sick with COVID-19.

“An interesting and startling statistic is that in the first 15 days of August, we’ve had 1,023 hospitalizations,” Piercey said during the video news conference. “That is higher than any other full month combined in the pandemic, which was November and it was in the 900s.”

Currently, about 2,200 people are hospitalized in Tennessee with COVID-19, with 43 of them children, according to the state, compared to about 3,300 in January. Notably, the influx of patients led Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville to say late last week that its adult hospital and emergency department are “completely full.”

She said that from May through July, 88% of hospitalizations and 94% of deaths were among the unvaccinated, while vaccinated hospitalizations mostly involved immunocompromised patients. An additional shot of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is now encouraged for immunocompromised people.

Piercey said the influx of coronavirus patients has led the state to offer some Tennessee National Guard medical personnel again to help staff overwhelmed hospitals. Many members of the Guard have been helping give vaccines, which has slowed down, she said. A similar offer was available in the winter but was not highly used, as some Memphis and Northeast Tennessee hospitals took the extra manpower, which generally includes teams of about a dozen extra people, she said. Many more hospitals are nearing that point in staffing needs this time around, Piercey said.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Tennessee has risen from 1,824 on July 31 to 3,879 on Saturday, while that rate for deaths has grown from about 8.6 deaths a day to 16.3 over the same timeframe, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

The latest wave of cases has motivated more Tennesseans to get vaccinated over the last month, going from 58,000 a week to now more than 100,000 — many of them first doses, Piercey said.

Still, Tennessee remains in the bottom 10 among states for vaccination rates. About 40.1% of the state is fully vaccinated, compared to the national rate of 50.7%; and 47.1% of Tennessee have received one or more dose, compared to 59.7% nationally, according to a federal vaccinations tracker.

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