The coronavirus outbreak in Tennessee just continues to grow. Over the past 96 hours, there have been 4,263 new cases of infection across the state’s 95 counties — smashing the previous four-day high for new cases. Residents in Nashville and Memphis, the state’s two largest cities, have been ordered to wear masks. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Monday issued an executive order continuing a state of emergency for two more months. With that order, social gatherings of more than 50 people will continue to be off-limits if there isn’t space available for social distancing. Here are five numbers that put the current state of the coronavirus pandemic into perspective:
29% — That’s how much Tennessee’s number of active cases has grown just in the past week, from 11,455 on June 22 to 14,743 on June 29. In the past two weeks, the number of active cases has grown 39%, from 10,615 on June 15. There have now been 42,297 total cases of coronavirus in Tennessee, dating back to March. That’s 6,194 cases per 1 million people, which ranks Tennessee 27th nationally, and below the U.S. average of 8,108 cases per 1 million people.
7.6% — The percentage of tests that are returning positive for coronavirus has crept up to 7.6% in the past two weeks. It is not a substantial number; an early estimate by infectious diseases experts in the U.S. was that the percentage of positive tests needs to be under 10% to signal that sufficient testing is being conducted. However, the World Health Organization recommends a much lower rate; on May 12, it said that rates of positivity in testing should be at 5% or lower for 14 consecutive days before governments reopen. Tennessee met that benchmark when the reopening process began, but the rates of positivity have since crept upward — an indication that the current surge in new cases can’t be simply blamed on increased testing. Since June 1, 5.7% of Tennessee’s tests have returned positive. In the past week, however, that number is 8.7%.
493 — That’s the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus in Tennessee in the past two weeks (since June 15). Why is that number important? It represents 19% of the total number of Covid-19 hospitalizations in Tennessee dating back to March. In other words, nearly 1 in 5 people who have been hospitalized for coronavirus have entered the hospital in the past two weeks. It’s a clear indication that hospitalizations are increasing, and the number of people currently hospitalized further bears that out: There are currently 512 coronavirus patients hospitalized in Tennessee. That’s the most at any one time since the pandemic reached the Volunteer State, and in the past week, it’s risen by almost 15% (from 448 on June 22 to 512 on June 29). It’s concerning because only about 1 in 4 of Tennessee’s hospital beds and ICU beds are available (though not all of the other 3 in 4 are occupied by coronavirus patients).
4.4% — That’s the percentage of new coronavirus cases that have resulted in hospitalization in the past two weeks, and since June 1. Why is it important? Because the rate of hospitalization appears to be decreasing — so while the number of people being infected with coronavirus is going up, the likelihood that they’ll need hospitalization seems to be decreasing. That’s important because about 1 in 5 Covid-19 patients who need hospitalization in Tennessee do not survive. Since the pandemic began, Tennessee’s hospitalization rate is 6.1%. As of April 15, it was 11%. As of May 1, it was 9.4%. So, it is definitely declining. Part of that decline is due to increased testing, which finds more mild and asymptomatic cases. However, the rate of hospitalization has continued to decline even as the rate of test positivity has increased.
0.9% — That’s the percentage of Tennessee’s diagnosed coronavirus cases that have ended in death in the past two weeks. It’s a bit of a deceiving statistic because there is a lag time between diagnoses and deaths. A March study out of New Zealand found a medium delay of 12 days between the onset of symptoms and death. However, what is not deceiving is this: An average of 7.8 people per day in Tennessee have died of coronavirus in the past two weeks (beginning June 15). For the two weeks prior to that, it was 8.3 people per day. And for the two weeks prior to that — the second half of May — it was 5 people per day. Because of the lag time between diagnosis and death, there’s no guarantee that a surge in new Covid-19 deaths won’t visit Tennessee in the days and weeks ahead. But, for now, the number of deaths isn’t keeping pace with the number of new infections. Critics have argued that the news media is focused on the number of new cases while ignoring the number of people who are dying. There appears to be some truth in that. Nationwide, it’s been 25 days since 1,000 or more people died of coronavirus in a single day; at the peak of the pandemic, the virus was killing 2,000 people per day. For the past 10 days, an average of 537 people per day have died from the virus — the lowest 10-day average since March. Back here in Tennessee, the case fatality rate has dropped to just under 1.4% — the lowest it has been so far. Tennessee’s coronavirus death rate is one of the lowest in the nation.