Hamilton County has gone more than three weeks without a new coronavirus-related death, marking the longest stretch without a COVID-19 fatality of any major county in the state, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Health.
As of Tuesday, Hamilton County had 13 COVID-19 deaths, with the last death reported coming on April 18. Knox County, which has five deaths total, reported its last death on April 28.
Both Shelby and Davidson counties reported new deaths on Tuesday. Rutherford and Sumner counties, both smaller than Hamilton County, have seen far more COVID-19 deaths - 18 and 39, respectively.
Although any loss of life is tragic, Hamilton County's long streak without a COVID-19 fatality signifies that the county is in a stable position for the time being, officials say.
"We have done a good job of flattening the curve in Chattanooga - made a lot of right steps - but we're in this for the long haul, and we need to take it seriously for the long haul," said Rae Bond, CEO of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society. "It is still a very contagious virus, and people can be carriers and have absolutely no symptoms and no idea."
Bond spoke on a teleconference Tuesday after the area's COVID-19 Task Force meeting. The group meets weekly to discuss the pandemic and recommend strategies to local officials.
A new death reported in Hamilton County on Tuesday turned out to be a Georgia resident, and therefore will not be recorded as a death in Tennessee.
All in all, Tennessee reported 13 new deaths on Tuesday for a total of 264 deaths since the pandemic began.
Like other COVID-19 metrics, deaths provide a snapshot of the pandemic and should be considered in conjunction with other metrics, such as new cases and hospitalizations, when tracking the severity of an outbreak. That's because the total number of deaths is an ever-changing figure, and not everyone who dies from coronavirus will be tested.
And while the overall death toll climbs, the total number of new deaths weekly in the state has hovered in the mid-30s for the past three weeks - a signal that the pandemic in the state as a whole is relatively stable, at least for now.
So far, the most deaths to occur in one week in Tennessee was 58 the week of April 18.
Kerry Hayes, chief of staff to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, said that while Hamilton County is fortunate to have gone some time without any new deaths, that doesn't mean people should stop practicing prevention measures to protect themselves and others from possible infection.
"People in Chattanooga still need to be adhering to face masks, hand washing, social distancing of 6 feet or more, regular disinfecting of hard surfaces - a lot of the things that you heard us say at the very outset of this crisis are in some ways more important now," Hayes said.
If the virus begins to recirculate as part of the region's reopening of non-essential businesses, it could take several weeks before the impact is felt in hospitals and reflected in mortality data.
The Hamilton County Health Department declined to comment for this story.
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