Hamilton County breaks records for COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU patients, active cases, new cases

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Healthcare workers Kristen Pennington, right, and Lisa Bledsoe, left, bag up COVID-19 tests provided by the non-profit organizations Alleo and CEMPA at Hospice of Chattanooga on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hamilton County broke multiple records Tuesday in metrics important for understanding the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the county's health experts said the area is now experiencing the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings.

The Hamilton County Health Department reported 510 new cases Tuesday, along with 3,576 active cases, 183 confirmed hospitalizations and 46 people in the intensive care unit, all of which are records. The health department also reported two additional deaths, marking 11 since Sunday.

Metrics such as hospitalizations and deaths are among the key data points to measure the intensity of the coronavirus's impact. The records broken Tuesday were all broken two weeks ago and individually were broken multiple times since. There is little indication that spread is slowing in Chattanooga or the surrounding region, which has received national attention for having some of the most severe hot spots in the country.

Rae Bond, chair of the COVID-19 Joint Task Force, said the upward trend is likely the result of gatherings held over the Thanksgiving weekend, when millions of Americans visited with people outside their household over the pleas of health experts not to do so.

"The health department reports that various community gatherings continue to be a key source of COVID spread," Bond said during a Tuesday news conference. "And I believe we're seeing the results of community gatherings over Thanksgiving and I am, personally, very concerned about the impact of Christmas gatherings on the spread of the virus."

While there are pieces of hopeful information - such as the quick turnaround time of test results and the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arriving in Tennessee - people must stay focused on the measures that can protect others, such as wearing a mask and staying physically distant, Bond said. It will likely be months before most Tennessee residents have access to the vaccine.

Hamilton County is averaging 353 new cases per day in the past week and a positivity rate of nearly 18%. Bond said that the local hospitals still have capacity to treat patients, yet local health care providers are stressed after working to fight the virus for months without rest. Along with the 183 confirmed hospitalizations reported Tuesday, 13 people are under investigation for COVID-19, meaning they were showing symptoms and likely awaiting test results at the time hospitalizations were reported.

"We continue to be extremely concerned about the continual increase of positive cases in our community, which has seen a parallel increase in hospitalizations," Bond said. "We continue to urge the public, in the strongest possible terms, to limit your interactions, to limit the spread of COVID. We need strong action if we're going to avoid overwhelming our systems of care in our community."

The county is continuing to recruit former health care workers to alleviate the strain on local health systems. The workers would do non-coronavirus work, freeing up staff to focus on patients battling the virus.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.