The TN Dept. of Health reported two additional cases of coronavirus in Scott County on Sunday, bringing the county’s total number of Covid-19 cases to 28, and its number of active cases to 12.
Just 10 days ago, Scott County had only one active case of the virus and had largely been spared as the viral outbreak began to reach Tennessee’s rural areas. But three new cases were announced the next day, and there were reports at the beginning of last week of new cases that soon would be added to Scott County’s tally — and they were.
State health officials have now reported 10 cases of coronavirus in Scott County in the past five days, as the escalating outbreak hits home.
And while Scott County had one of the lowest numbers of active cases in the state 10 days ago, it still ranks towards the bottom — signifying the worsening of the Covid-19 outbreak on a statewide scale. As of Sunday, there were only 14 counties out of 95 across the state with fewer than 10 active cases. Most of them are tiny counties with far fewer residents than Scott County.
Ten days ago, only the state’s two biggest counties — Davidson and Shelby — had more than 1,000 active cases. On Sunday, six counties had more than 1,000 cases. And 25 of the state’s 95 counties have 100 or more active cases.
Tops among the latter group is Knox County, with 831 active cases as of Sunday, according to the state health department. The Knox County Health Department reported 714 active cases, a number that has declined over the past two days. But there are now 40 Knox County residents hospitalized, a number that continues to increase.
Statewide, the number of active cases surpassed 25,000 for the first time on Sunday. The Dept. of Health reported 954 new cases in the past 24 hours. That’s the lowest total since Monday, but Sundays typically result in lower numbers of new cases than the rest of the week, due to the weekend.
With the continuing surge of new cases across the state, the number of hospitalized patients continues to rise. As of Thursday, the last day for which the state has reported the data, there were a total of 842 people hospitalized in Tennessee. That’s almost double the number of people who were hospitalized with coronavirus on June 22. Each of the more than 100 hospitals reporting a coronavirus census to the state on Thursday reported an average of eight patients hospitalized in their facility with the virus.
Despite the rise, the state’s capability to care for Covid-19 patients with severe illness is holding steady. One in five available hospital beds and ICU beds were unoccupied as of Saturday, a number that has changed little in recent weeks. More than 7 in 10 of the state’s available ventilators aren’t being used.
The situation is a little more dire in the East Tennessee region. On Tuesday, July 7, the Knox County Health Department reported that fewer than 8% of the available ICU beds in the East Tennessee region were unoccupied. The region has 19 hospitals — many of them in the Knoxville metropolitan area but also including Big South Fork Medical Center, Jellico Community Hospital and LaFollette Medical Center. That data is updated only weekly by the Knox County Health Department. The state health department does not make that data publicly available.
Little is known about the relative surge of new cases in Scott County. Health officials cannot reveal much about the active cases, due to HIPPA restrictions that stipulate patient privacy. However, the new cases appear to be split nearly evenly between the Oneida and Pioneer zip codes.
What is clear is that Scott County’s uptick in new cases is closely associated with the rise of new cases in Knox County. That isn’t too surprising; there is a direct economic link between the local community and the nearest metropolitan area, with thousands of Scott Countians traveling to Knoxville weekly for work, commerce or health care.
The CDC has labeled Knoxville a hotspot for coronavirus, and teams from both the CDC and the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services visited the city last week to offer assistance and support.
Despite the continuing surge of coronavirus cases in Tennessee, not all of the news is bad. While the anticipated surge of new deaths related to the virus appeared to finally be happening last week, numbers have leveled off for at least the time being. The state health department reported 45 Covid-19 deaths in a 48-hour period between Tuesday and Thursday, by far the most in a two-day span since the pandemic reached Tennessee. But only 28 deaths were reported in the next 48 hours, and only three new deaths were reported on Sunday.
Still, 95 Tennesseans have died of coronavirus in the past week, making it the deadliest week since the pandemic began.
Nevertheless, the coronavirus case fatality rate in Tennessee remains one of the lowest in the nation, at 1.2%. And it continues to decline; one week ago, it was 1.3%. Two weeks ago, it was 1.5%.
Those numbers can be deceiving. The declining case fatality rate is largely attributable to the sheer number of new cases of infection in the past 14 days, and there is a significant lag time between diagnoses and deaths. The number of Tennesseans currently hospitalized is at its highest point since the pandemic began, and is increasing daily. Historically, about 23% of Covid-19 patients requiring hospitalization in Tennessee have not survived, so a surge of new deaths related to the virus may continue.
So far, though, the number of hospitalizations and deaths aren’t keeping pace with the number of new infections. Since June 1, only 3.9% of new coronavirus cases have required hospitalization. And while there is a lag time between diagnoses and hospitalizations, that percentage is decreasing — not increasing — as June 1 grows more distant.
Nationwide, the rolling 7-day average of people dying from coronavirus is increasing after weeks of decline. As of Sunday, the 7-day average was 723 Covid-19 deaths per day, the most since June 16. However, at the peak of the pandemic, more than 2,000 Americans were dying per day. Nationwide, as in Tennessee, the coronavirus death rate isn’t keeping pace with the surge of new cases.
While the declining death rate is good news, there is troubling news attached. There have now been 12 people in their 20s who have died in Tennessee. A week ago, there had been only eight. Ten days before that, only four.
There have been three pediatric deaths linked to coronavirus in Tennessee, all children under the age of 10, and all of them with underlying medical conditions. A total of 25 people between the ages of 21 and 40 have died, and 36 people in their 40s have died.
Still, 1 in 3 deaths have occurred in people over the age of 80, even though that age group accounts for only 2% of the total coronavirus cases — a case fatality rate of 18.7%. Despite the increasing number of deaths among people in their 20s, that age group has the lowest case fatality rate of all Tennessee adults. Because one in four of the state’s coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in people in their 20s, the case fatality rate in that age demographic is just 0.08%. For people in their 30s, the case fatality rate is 0.1%. It begins to rise after that, and is 0.4% for people in their 40s, and 1.0% for people in their 50s.
Despite those numbers, the case fatality rate for people in their 80s indicates that even in the highest-risk age group, more than 4 out of every 5 people diagnosed with the virus ultimately survive. And if the CDC is correct that only 10% of the total number of coronavirus cases have been diagnosed, Tennessee’s true death rate for all ages could be as low as 0.1% — lower than seasonal flu, which has a death rate of about 0.2% in an average year.
Finally, a piece of good news in the state’s latest coronavirus data: In Sevier County, the outbreak appears to have stabilized — at least for the time being. With tens of thousands of tourists flocking to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg weekly, Sevier County had emerged as a growing hotspot for the coronavirus, with the virus showing exponential growth there. But it is one of only four Tennessee counties that has seen its active number of cases decrease in the past 10 days. There are currently 309 active cases of coronavirus in Sevier County.