For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, the Knox County Health Department’s health care system capabilities benchmark has gone from yellow to red as East Tennessee hospitals face a shortage of beds.
As coronavirus hospitalizations surge in the 16-county region — which includes Knoxville and surrounding counties, including Scott County — the Knox County Health Department sounded the alarm on Wednesday. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 423 Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the region’s 19 hospitals, with 90 of them in ICU and 41 requiring the use of a ventilator.
Big South Fork Medical Center in Oneida is one of the 19 hospitals in the 16-county region.
As of Tuesday, only eight of the region’s 284 ICU beds were unoccupied. Just over 500 total beds remained available, out of a little more than 3,000, but that number includes beds that cannot be used for Covid-19 patients, such as labor and delivery beds or behavioral health beds.
Of the 276 ICU beds that were occupied in the region’s 19 hospitals as of Tuesday, 186 of them were occupied by non-coronavirus patients. However, hospitals typically operate with most beds occupied, and the concern is that the rising number of coronavirus patients will eventually over-tax the hospitals — a worry that is compounded by the fact that the region is moving into flu season, when hospitalizations for flu-like illness and pneumonia typically increase.
Despite the concern, the Tennessee Healthcare Tracking System indicates that there the East Tennessee region’s 19 hospitals have a surge capacity of 543 additional ICU beds — that is, hospital capacity that is above and beyond normal capacity.
There are currently 130 people hospitalized with coronavirus from Knox County alone. The remaining nearly 300 Covid-19 patients were from the surrounding counties.
In Scott County, there have only been five coronavirus-related hospitalizations reported since November 1, despite there being more than 700 cases of coronavirus reported during that same time span.
Since the pandemic began, about 2.3% of Scott County’s 1,171 coronavirus cases have required hospitalization. Since November 1, that percentage has dipped to 0.7%. However, that statistic can be misleading, since there is a delay between diagnoses and hospitalizations.
Across Tennessee as a whole, hospitalizations continue to climb. As of Tuesday, there were nearly 2,500 hospitalizations related to coronavirus — the most since the pandemic began. About 8% of ICU beds remained available at hospitals across the state.
Active coronavirus cases in Scott County dropped for the eighth time in nine days on Wednesday, after the TN Dept. of Health reported 27 new cases and 29 recoveries. Only eight of the new cases on Wednesday were confirmed, while 19 were classified as “probable” cases. Probable cases include positive antigen — or rapid — tests, or in some cases can include people who have developed certain symptoms specific to coronavirus after being exposed to the virus. Testing positivity for Wednesday was 17%.
Only two of the new cases were in school-aged children, ages five to 18. There have been 34 school-aged children in Scott County diagnosed with coronavirus in the past week, compared to 38 the previous week and 33 the week before that. The Scott County School System announced Wednesday that its phase-in schedule will continue next week.