Hamilton County braces for coronavirus surge as cases, deaths and testing rise

Coronavirus tile / photo courtesy of Getty Images

Hamilton County is preparing for an anticipated peak of local COVID-19 cases as confirmed cases in the county rise to 63. Reported deaths hit six on Thursday, less than three weeks after the first case was identified locally.

After announcing 11 new cases and the death of an elderly resident, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes warned the public Thursday that the death toll could rise depending on behavior.

"For more and more of us, these numbers will begin to represent our family and loved ones," Barnes said, pleading for citizens to stay home to avoid the spread.

When asked what factors are contributing to the nearly 10% death rate among confirmed cases - with six local deaths out of 63 cases, according to the health department Thursday - Barnes gave no explanation.

"That's one of those things that would require a retrospective study," she said.

(READ MORE: These are the Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama COVID-19 cases by county)

The Hamilton County Health Department website only reflects five local deaths, because one was a non-resident who died in a local hospital.

Including all the local deaths - even the nonresident - Hamilton County is tied with Nashville's Davidson County for second most coronavirus deaths in the state, despite Davidson having nearly 10 times as many confirmed cases, according to the state on Thursday.

To prepare for a potential spike in cases, County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the county is working on executing surge planning with several state and federal agencies to accommodate any influx in hospitalizations.

"This is something that our emergency management and health departments have been looking at for years," Coppinger said. "For the most part, it is working exactly like they had planned."

While the county believes it has an adequate surge plan in place for healthcare facilities, Coppinger said supplies are needed as officials brace for increased hospitalizations after the county begins its first community testing on Friday.

"We're not running out of [supplies], but we're running short," Coppinger said, warning that he anticipates more cases and the county is "not out of the woods yet."

"We're not even near there," he said. "We haven't hit the peak yet."

Coppinger did not share any specific surge locations. Gov. Bill Lee identified the Chattanooga Convention Center as a designated surge location minutes after Coppinger's announcement.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.