By two key measures, Hamblen County COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly, and it’s not just because lots more people are being tested.
A higher percentage of Hamblen County residents who undergo coronavirus tests are testing positive, according to Tennessee Department of Health statistics.
By another yardstick, sustained coronavirus growth in Hamblen County, which officially has nine COVID-19 related deaths, is higher than all but eight of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
The only Lakeway Area County that is higher is Hancock County, according to the state statistics.
One coronavirus statistic that health-care officials say is crucial is the positivity rate – the percentage of people who take coronavirus tests that test positive. No matter how much testing increases or decreases, the positivity rate is important because it’s an accurate indicator COVID-19 concentration in an area.
For example, if 100 people take a coronavirus test and two test positive, that’s a positivity rate of 2%. That’s about where Hamblen County was through early June.
If 100 people take coronavirus tests and 16 test positive, it results in a 16% positivity rate. That’s where Hamblen County is through Saturday afternoon, according to the health department statistics.
Another statistic the state health department keeps is the epidemic rate – the average number of new COVID-19 per day, over a 14-day period, per 100,000 county residents. The epidemic rate is meaningful because it shows two-week, and makes possible county-to-county comparisons.
By that measure, the coronavirus outlook for Hamblen and Hancock counties is poor. Hamblen County’s epidemic rate is 41.8. Hancock County’s epidemic rate is 48.8, according to the health department.
The epidemic rate is not an arbitrary, meaningless number. Only counties with epidemic rates below 10 may consider allowing visitors to long-term care facilities like nursing and assisted-living homes, according to state health department.
With the exception of Davidson County, all Tennessee counties with a higher epidemic rate have smaller populations. In counties with many fewer residents, relatively small increases in cases can change the epidemic rate significantly.
That’s what happened in Hancock County.
For weeks after coronavirus testing began, there were no reported coronavirus cases in Hancock County. In recent weeks, the number of positive COVID-19 cases there has increased to 59. With a population of fewer than 7,000, the 59 reported positives catapulted Hancock County to near the top of the list in Tennessee.
Even Sevier and Hamilton counties, which have seen disproportionately large number of coronavirus cases, now have much better epidemic rates than Hamblen County. The epidemic rate in Sevier County is 30.4. The rate in Hamilton County is 31, according to the health department.
At 67.3, Hardeman County, which is located about 60 miles east of Memphis, has the highest epidemic rate in the state. Johnson County in East Tennessee has the lowest .