The number of people being hospitalized due to Covid-19 illness in Tennessee is increasing.
In the past 48 hours, the number of people who’ve required hospitalization since the coronavirus outbreak began has increased by 23%. Or, put another way, of the 1,013 people who have been hospitalized in Tennessee due to the virus, nearly 1 in 4 have entered the hospital in the past two days.
The TN Dept. of Health reported 132 new hospitalizations since Tuesday — easily the most in a single 24-hour period thus far. That came after the Dept. of Health announced 57 new hospitalizations on Tuesday, which was a single-day record at the time. Prior to Tuesday, hospitalizations within a 24-hour period were in the single digits.
Hospitalizations are one of the most important indicators of the Covid-19 outbreak. While there’s no way of knowing exactly how many people in the Volunteer State are or have been infected with coronavirus because many are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms that could be mistaken for the common cold or a mild case of the flu, hospitalizations are a more accurate way of tracking the severity of the outbreak. Data has shown that a little more than 1 in 5 people in Tennessee with illness severe enough to require hospitalization will die.
Two things stand out about the hospitalizations:
One, the rising number could continue to be an indicator that last week’s surge of new cases of coronavirus in Tennessee was not merely due to increased testing of asymptomatic patients or patients with mild symptoms.
More than 400 new cases were reported in Tennessee every day for five consecutive days last week. On the front end, a large part of the increase was due to testing at state prisons — particularly the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, where every one of the more than 2,000 inmates were tested after an outbreak of coronavirus was discovered. Nearly 600 positive tests were returned, but most of those infected were asymptomatic, according to the TN Dept. of Corrections.
On the back end of the new case surge, the reason was less clear, with the number of new cases being reported in Bledsoe County and Lake County having stabilized.
Secondly, a surge of new coronavirus-related deaths is likely in the days ahead — due to the aforementioned statistic. While only 2% of known coronavirus cases result in death overall in Tennessee, some 20% of coronavirus hospitalizations end in death. The Dept. of Health reported seven on Wednesday, bringing the overall total in Tennessee to 195. But deaths lag several days behind hospitalizations.
Overall, the Dept. of Health reported 314 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday — though none in Scott County, where there are no active cases, or any of its neighboring counties. The number of active cases in the state crept up to 5,031, the highest so far.
Emerging as new hotspots are Trousdale County and McMinn County. Trousdale County now has 50 total cases, while McMinn County has 70. Both have seen an explosion of new cases in the past 48 hours.
In McMinn County, the cause for the increase is an outbreak at an assisted living facility in Athens. The Dept. of Health reported the first coronavirus-related death in McMinn County on Wednesday, but a second death has also been linked to the facility, the Life Care Center of Athens. Staff there say that 58 of 95 residents have tested positive for Covid-19, and that two remain hospitalized.
Residents of assisted living facilities are considered the most vulnerable amid the Covid-19 outbreak. While the virus most often causes only mild symptoms, it is most dangerous among the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Nursing home residents are the most likely to fall into those categories. Nationwide, somewhere between 1 in 5 and half of all coronavirus-related deaths have occurred in nursing homes. That number is currently at 20%, but not every state is reporting nursing home deaths, and health experts fear the number is being drastically under-reported.
Tennessee is among the states that, so far, is not including nursing home deaths in its data. The CDC will soon require all states to include that data.
In Trousdale County, the rising numbers are a result of an outbreak at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville, a state prison. Ninety-three inmates there have tested positive.
Elsewhere, the virus outbreak appeared to be slowing in the worst-affected areas. Davidson County’s Metro Nashville Health Dept. reported only 24 new cases on Wednesday. And the state Dept. of Health reported only seven new cases in Knox County. The total number of active cases in Knoxville remains at 24.
In the local region, there are only 11 active cases of coronavirus — six in Anderson County, three in Fentress County and two in Campbell County. Morgan and Pickett counties — like Scott County — do not have an active case of the virus.
However, testing remains limited in most of those counties. In Scott County, testing per capita is only about half the statewide testing average. Six new test results were reported by the Dept. of Health on Wednesday, all of them negative.