Amid a much-publicized increase of coronavirus cases across the U.S., new cases of the virus are once again beginning to climb in Tennessee. But that increase is not yet being seen in Scott County.
The TN Dept. of Health on Monday reported 994 new cases of Covid-19 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.
Over the past week, Tennessee has averaged almost 750 new cases of Covid-19 each day. That’s up a whopping 60% in just one week, and it’s up nearly 170% since the first week of July. The number of active cases in the Volunteer State has more than tripled in the past two weeks, from just over 2,000 to almost 7,200.
Testing positivity is also creeping upward. Over the course of the past week, 8% of the covid tests performed in Tennessee have returned positive.
Those same trends aren’t yet being seen in Scott County, even if they seem likely to follow. A single new case of Covid-19 was reported in Scott County by the Dept. of Health on Monday, the first new case here in six days.
Scott County hasn’t had multiple cases of coronavirus reported in the same day since June 8, and the days since then with no new cases far outnumber the days with one new case. There were only two active cases of the virus in Scott County as of Monday.
Coronavirus has become largely an afterthought in Scott County. There hasn’t been a hospitalization here tied to the virus since May 13 and, incredibly, there have been no deaths attributed to Covid-19 in Scott County since March.
But in other parts of Tennessee, the narrative is starting to change again, and that includes some places close to home. In Campbell County, for example, there were seven new cases of covid reported by health officials on Friday, and another four cases on Monday. That brings Campbell County to 22 active cases of Covid-19. That’s far fewer than the 443 active cases that existed in Campbell County on Dec. 30, but it’s substantially more than the single active case in Campbell County as of two weeks ago.
Statewide, hospitalizations related to Covid-19 are once again on the increase. On July 4, there were 195 covid patients hospitalized in 113 hospitals across the state. By Monday, that total had risen to 501. The number of patients now hospitalized in ICU (182) is now nearly as many as were hospitalized altogether just two weeks ago.
The same trend hasn’t been as magnified in the East Tennessee region. As of Tuesday there were 61 covid patients hospitalized in the 19 hospitals of East Tennessee, which consists of Knoxville and surrounding counties, including Scott County. That’s up almost 50% from a week earlier, but the sample size is small. Still, it’s the most covid patients hospitalized at any one time in East Tennessee since June 1.
Given the increase in covid-related hospitalizations, it seems only a matter of time before covid-related deaths also begin to increase again. Since the pandemic began, there has been one coronavirus death in Tennessee for every two hospitalizations.
What’s driving the new increase in covid cases after a summer of waning illness? Primarily, the so-called Delta variant, a mutation of coronavirus that’s considered by doctors to be much more infectious than the original strand of the virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday that Delta variant is accounting for 83% of new covid cases. A month ago, it account for just 30% of new cases. As a result, the numbers of sick people are climbing even before school starts back and colder weather arrives.
So far, those who are getting seriously sick from covid are mostly those who have not received a vaccination, according to health officials.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said that 98% of those currently being hospitalized with covid are unvaccinated.
Still, he added, that represents a threat to the vaccinated, since a circulating virus is at risk of further mutations and there could eventually be a mutation that finds a way around the vaccination.
“Every time this virus infects a new person there is a potential that yet another variant could be created, just by chance,” Schaffner said. “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.”
Most Scott Countians have been reluctant to receive the vaccine. Currently, only about 36% of the county’s residents are fully vaccinated, with slightly more than that at least partially vaccinated. That number is still climbing, but slowly. The numbers have leveled off considerably since the spring.
However, close to 90% of Scott Countians ages 70 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccination. That is the age group most at risk of serious illness from covid.
The total percentage of Scott Countians who are fully vaccinated is only slightly less than the percentage of Tennesseans who are vaccinated.
While most of the elderly have gotten vaccinated, health experts say the newer variants of coronavirus are beginning to impact younger people with more serious illness.
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.”