There was early hope that the arrival of warmer weather would cause the outbreak of novel coronavirus to ease, months before an anticipated vaccine is available to curb its spread.
But as the calendar has flipped from May to June and summer has arrived, that has not been the case in Tennessee. The number of active cases of Covid-19 illness continues to rise in the Volunteer State, topping 8,000 for the first time on Tuesday and edging up slightly to 8,115 on Wednesday. That’s over 1,000 more active cases than a week earlier, or an increase of about 15%.
The TN Dept. of Health has reported 21 deaths related to coronavirus in the past 48 hours, and the number of people being newly hospitalized with Covid-19 illness remains elevated — averaging 30 hospitalizations per day over the past week.
There are explanations for some of the increase. In Lake County, a small county in the northwest corner of the state, more than 300 new cases were announced on Tuesday — a day that saw more than 800 new cases reported statewide by the Dept. of Health. Lake County now leads the U.S. in coronavirus cases per capita, with more than 800 total cases. But almost all of them have been linked to a state prison there, Northwest Correctional Complex. The prison was the source for the more than 300 new infections reported on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, there is some positive news. The growth of active cases has slowed somewhat in Davidson and Shelby counties, the two worst-hit counties in Tennessee. However, the number of active cases is still increasing in each county. The state health department reported more than 100 new infections in each county on Wednesday.
In Putnam County, which has appeared an emerging hotbed for coronavirus cases over the past several weeks, the number of active cases has dipped substantially. Although there were 12 new cases reported in Putnam County on Wednesday, the number of active cases there has dropped to just under 200.
There also hasn’t been much growth outside Tennessee’s major population centers in the past week. Most of the growth has been confined to urban areas. Close to home, there are only 13 active cases in Scott and adjoining counties; there were nearly twice that many at one point as recently as two weeks ago. Six of those active cases are in Morgan County, but that number can be expected to drop. The TN Dept. of Corrections has reported that all 10 inmates who have tested positive for the virus at the Morgan County Correctional Complex have recovered.
There is only one active case of coronavirus attributed to Scott County — and it isn’t actually a local case, per se. According to Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals, the county’s 12th case of coronavirus, reported last week, is a woman who is working outside the state and hasn’t been home since late April. CDC testing protocols require cases to be tallied according to patients’ county of residence. Meanwhile, the last case of coronavirus to actually be linked directly to Scott County was on April 15.
But there’s also troubling news. For Scott County, perhaps, the most notable news of concern is a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases being reported in Knoxville, the nearest metropolitan area and a source of work and commerce for many Scott Countians. The Knox County Health Department reported 112 active cases of the virus there on Thursday. As recently as a week ago, there were only a couple of dozen active cases in Knoxville. There are currently two people hospitalized with Covid-19 in Knox County, where 44 have been hospitalized and five have died since the outbreak began.
Further down Interstate 75, in Chattanooga, there have been 260 new cases of the virus reported in Hamilton County in the past week. There are currently more than 600 active cases in Hamilton County.
Most people who become ill from coronavirus will experience only mild symptoms. But it is sometimes serious or even fatal, particularly in elderly people or in people with underlying medical conditions.
Underscoring the fact that the elderly are most at risk, people over the age of 80 currently make up 35% of the state’s 388 fatalities that have been linked to coronavirus, even though that age group accounts for only 3% of the overall number of coronavirus cases. In all, 84% of Tennessee’s coronavirus-related deaths have occurred in people over the age of 60.
However, there have been fatalities in every age group, including nearly two dozen people in their 40s.
For reasons medical experts still do not fully understand, Covid-19 disproportionately impacts black people. In Tennessee, 34% of those who have died from the virus have been black, even though only 17% of the population is black. Even once the higher prevalence of the virus in the state’s cities with higher percentages of black residence have been accounted for, the unevenness exists. While 34% of those who have died of coronavirus have been black, only 22% of those who have contracted the virus have been black.
A total of 137 of Tennessee’s Covid-19 deaths — or 35% of the total — have been linked to long-term care facilities.