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As another surge of covid takes hold in Tennessee, the deaths are skewing younger

The percentage of Tennessee’s coronavirus-related deaths is shifting towards younger patients.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Tennessee is in the early stages of yet another covid surge.

Whether that surge will ultimately spread to Scott County remains to be seen. So far it hasn’t, but there’s no reason to think it won’t; doctors say there is no community immunity to coronavirus, aside from vaccinations.

As the latest surge of the virus begins, an alarming trend is becoming obvious: deaths related to the virus, which have been skewed heavily towards the elderly since the pandemic began, are beginning to tilt the other way, with larger percentages occurring in younger adults.

The latest surge

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On Monday, the TN Dept. of Health reported 982 new cases of coronavirus across the state. That was the most new cases in a single day in well over two months, and the 617 confirmed cases were the most in almost three months.

Then the Dept. of Health reported 1,287 new cases on Tuesday, and 1,468 new cases on Wednesday. In terms of new cases, it’s the highest 3-day total since April. For the 7-day period ending Wednesday, the Dept. of Health reported an average of more than 900 new cases per day, after daily new cases had slipped to under 200 per day as recently as a month ago.

Additionally, single-day testing positivity surpassed 10% on Wednesday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention use the 10% threshold to determine whether there is more prevalence of the disease circulating than is being detected.

Hospitalizations are creeping up. As of Wednesday, there were 545 covid patients hospitalized across the state, up nearly four dozen from the previous day.

No surge in Scott County

The surge in new cases is not yet being seen in Scott County. As of Wednesday, there were only three active cases of the virus here, and only two new cases had been reported in the past week. Scott County still hasn’t had a covid-related hospitalization since May 7, or a covid-related death since March 30.

It’s worth noting, perhaps, that it was at this same time last year that Scott County’s covid cases began to surge — lagging behind the rest of the state then, too. For the week ending July 21, 2020, there were nine new cases of covid reported in Scott County. The following week, that number jumped to 35. And that was nothing compared to the surge that would begin just after Halloween and continue through Christmas.

Already there are signs of the latest covid surge pressing closer to this community. As of Wednesday, there were 20 active cases of the virus in neighboring Campbell County. There were 16 active cases in Fentress County. There were 31 active cases in Morgan County.

The deaths get younger

It’s no secret that severe Covid-19 illness is a disease of the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, nearly 70% of the more than 12,500 Tennesseans who have died of coronavirus have been over the age of 70, and more than 85% have been over the age of 60. Fewer than 2% have been under the age of 40.

But the numbers are shifting. The delta variant of Covid-19 that’s being blamed for the current surge of the virus isn’t any deadlier than previous strains, but it is substantially more infectious.

As of March 30, about a year after the coronavirus pandemic reached the United States, the exact numbers showed that 37.7% of deaths in Tennessee had occurred in people over 80, 30.7% of the deaths occurred in people in their 70s, and 18.5% of the deaths occurred in people in their 60s.

Since March 30, the numbers have shifted dramatically. Only 19.9% of deaths in Tennessee have occurred in people in their 80s, and 24% of deaths have occurred in people in their 70s. But people in their 60s have occurred for 26.8% of deaths in this state.

The reason for the shift? Vaccinations. Or, rather, lack thereof.

While vaccinated people can still test positive for coronavirus, the resulting illness is usually mild. Nearly all of those who are currently being hospitalized and dying with Covid-19 have not been vaccinated. Dr. William Schaffner, the infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, said earlier this week that 98% of the people currently requiring hospitalization for covid in Tennessee have not been vaccinated.

In this state, people in their 60s are considerably less likely to have been vaccinated than people in their 70s, according to data from the Dept. of Health.

It isn’t just the middle-aged that are experiencing the shift in covid demographics. As of March 30, people in their 30s were accounting for only about 1% of covid-related deaths in Tennessee. Since March 30, they’ve accounted for just over 3% of covid-related deaths. As of March 30, people in their 40s were accounting for 3% of covid-related deaths in this state. Since that time, they’ve accounted for over 8% of covid deaths. As of March 30, people in their 50s were accounting for about 8.5% of covid deaths in Tennessee. They’ve since accounted for 17% of covid deaths.

To be sure, there are not greater numbers of younger adults dying from covid now than there were prior to the beginning of April. The overall number of deaths associated with the virus in Tennessee has plummeted since the spring, although the Dept. of Health did report 15 new fatalities on Wednesday, and that number is expected to steadily climb with the skyrocketing number of new cases and the rising number of hospitalizations. But the percentages are clearly shifting.

That, again, is due primarily to vaccinations. In Tennessee, more than 6 out of 10 people over the age of 60 have been inoculated against covid. That number slips to just about 4 out of 10 people in their 40s, and about 3 out of 10 people in their 30s.

Health professionals are urging unvaccinated Americans to consider the vaccine. Dr. Brytney Cobia, a Birmingham physician, recently made a dramatic Facebook post saying that she’s treating more young, otherwise healthy people for serious infections.

“One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine,” she wrote. “I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

Vaccinations in Scott County

The percentage of Scott Countians who have gotten vaccinated against coronavirus lag behind the percentage of Tennesseans who have taken the vaccine by a few percentage points. But Scott County has done a better job of vaccinating its elderly than the rest of the state.

In Scott County, more than 4 out of 5 people over the age of 60 have been vaccinated, and more than 50% of people in their 50s have been vaccinated, according to data made available by the Dept. of Health and the U.S. census. 

Where Scott County has come up short most noticeably has been in younger adults. Only about 1 in 4 people in their 20s have been vaccinated, and the percentage isn’t much higher for people in their 30s.

Because covid deaths are still skewed towards the elderly, these numbers could mean that Scott County is better protected against covid deaths this fall, as the latest coronavirus surge continues to take hold. 

But medical experts warn that unvaccinated hosts allow the virus to continue circulating, and as long as it is circulating it is subject to further mutations — any one of which could find a way to break through the effectiveness of vaccines.

“Every time this virus infects a new person there is a potential that yet another variant could be created, just by chance,” Schaffner said this week. “That’s another reason we want to give this virus few opportunities to infect people. Because if it creates a new variant, it can invade the protection of our current vaccine. Then we’ll have to create a new vaccine and start over.”

Vaccines are easily obtained in Scott County. Anyone over the age of 12 is eligible to receive a vaccine, free of charge, and virtually every pharmacy and many health care providers in Scott County has the vaccine in stock. 

To schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine, call (423) 663-2245 for the Scott County Health Dept., (423) 569-5555 for Plateau Drug Center, (423) 663-9355 for Scott County Pharmacy, or (423) 286-2270 for Walgreens. Additionally, walk-ins are accepted without an appointment at Danny’s Drugs and Roark’s Pharmacy. 

Independent Herald
Contact the Independent Herald at newsroom@ihoneida.com. Follow us on Twitter, @indherald.
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