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Covid: Active cases rapidly drop in Scott County as new mutation prompts fresh concern

The number of active covid cases in Scott County plunged to 128 on Sunday, a 3-week low, after the TN Dept. of Health reported only 58 new cases of the virus last week — down from 113 the previous week and 133 the week before that. But the University of Tennessee continues to measure Scott County's covid transmission rate as one of the highest in the state, and the Dept. of Health has reported six covid-related deaths here since the first of November. Both in the Knoxville area and statewide, covid-related hospitalizations are slowly increasing, while the pandemic's future remains uncertain. Experts are not in agreement over whether a winter surge of covid will occur, but the emergence of a new variant in South Africa has prompted fresh concerns even as the newest mutation remains little understood. Meanwhile, an analysis by The Tennessean on Monday revealed that unvaccinated Tennesseans are at a substantially greater risk for contracting covid and being hospitalized by it.

The number of active coronavirus cases has rapidly dropped in Scott County in recent days, falling to a 3-week low of 128 on Sunday, according to data made available by the TN Dept. of Health.

The last time there were this few active covid cases in the community was Nov. 8, when the number of active cases dropped to 119. From there, though, there was a spike in active cases, which topped out at over 200 on Nov. 18 before beginning to decline again.

The decline in active cases comes after the Dept. of Health reported just 58 new cases of the virus in Scott County for the 7-day period ending Sunday. That was down from 113 new cases for the previous 7-day period, and from 133 active cases for the 7-day period before that.

Very few of the cases that are popping up in Scott County are occurring in school-aged children, a positive sign that schools aren’t serving as breeding grounds for the virus. For the week ending Sunday, only 11 of 58 new cases — 19%, or about 1 in 5 — were in school-aged children. That’s down slightly from a week earlier, when 22% of new cases were in school-aged children.

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Nevertheless, testing positivity remains high in Scott County — 14.4% for the week ending Sunday. And covid continues to claim victims within the community, most of them people who are suffering from underlying illnesses. The Dept. of Health has reported six covid-related deaths in Scott County since the start of November; a total of 66 Scott Countians have died of covid since the pandemic began.

In addition to that, 102 Scott Countians have been hospitalized by covid, though the Dept. of Health has not reported any new hospitalizations in over a week.

Statewide, the number of covid-related hospitalizations continues to slowly climb. There are now more than 800 people hospitalized by the virus in Tennessee. That’s a far cry from the more than 1,700 that were hospitalized just a couple of months ago, but it’s higher than the fewer than 700 who were hospitalized just a couple of weeks ago.

That same trend is being seen in East Tennessee. The jump in covid-related hospitalizations isn’t startling, but the trend of decreasing hospitalizations has definitely ceased. As of Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, there were 151 people hospitalized with covid in Knoxville-area hospitals. That’s up from a low of 127 just a little more than a week earlier.

The University of Tennessee continues to measure the covid transmission rate in Scott County as one of the highest in the state. As of Monday, the university measured Scott County’s transmission rate at 1.12, with just 19 out of 94 other counties in the state having a higher transmission rate.

There are mixed signs on where the coronavirus pandemic goes from here. Some experts expect a winter surge of the virus, fueled by the holiday get-togethers that have already begun over Thanksgiving. In New York, there are some early signs that such a surge may be underway. Other experts are less certain that a winter surge will occur, especially since waves of the virus aren’t occurring in schools, where students are in close contact even during the warm-weather months.

The emergence of the latest mutation of the virus — first in South Africa and since in several other nations around the world — has prompted widespread concerns for what might be next. Experts say it’s too soon to predict gloom-and-doom due to Omicron, pointing out that it may not prove to be as effective as the Delta variant, which fueled the most recent surge of the virus. Still, they say, caution is warranted.

The arrival of Omicron has led to new calls for the unvaccinated to be vaccinated, and for the previously vaccinated who need a booster shot to receive them. A new report by The Tennessean on Monday confirmed that the Delta variant of covid had a disproportionate impact on the unvaccinated in Tennessee. Between the first of July and the end of October, the newspaper reported, unvaccinated people in the Volunteer State were infected at rates 52% higher, and hospitalized at rates 93% higher, than Tennesseans as a whole during the surge of the virus that was seen last winter.

Based on the data, unvaccinated Tennesseans are six times more likely to be infected by covid than vaccinated Tennesseans, seven times more likely to be hospitalized by the virus, and 6.5 times more likely to die from it. The Tennessean’s report utilized data from the C.D.C.

That’s an issue for counties like Scott County, where vaccination rates continue to trail the state and national averages. Scott County saw an uptick in the number of people being vaccinated as the virus surged due to the Delta variant. But as the virus waned, so too did the number of new vaccinations. As of Monday, only about 48% of Scott County’s residents were fully vaccinated. Another 10% were partially vaccinated.

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