Hamilton County has passed 500 deaths from COVID-19, nearly 15 months after the virus was first reported in the county.
The Hamilton County Health Department reported two virus-related deaths Tuesday, the 500th and 501st deaths of county residents.
Becky Barnes, administrator for the health department, urged unvaccinated residents to seek out the shots, which are being offered without an appointment at the Tennessee Riverpark this week.
"A single life lost is one too many. We send our deepest condolences to the families who have been and continue to be affected by this virus," Barnes said in a statement. "Although COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County remain consistently low, the vaccination rate needs to increase. It is the best way to protect you and your loved ones."
Of the 501 deaths in Hamilton County, 228 have been females and 273 males. There have been 137 Black residents killed by the virus so far, accounting for 27% of deaths, according to data from the health department. Around two-thirds of all local deaths have been individuals age 71 and older.
In the month since Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger ended the countywide mask mandate, new cases have continued trending downward. On April 28, the day the mandate was lifted, the county was averaging 49 new cases a day in the past week. As of Tuesday, the county averaged 18 new cases a day in the previous seven days.
Around 35 people have been hospitalized with the virus in the past week and, as of Tuesday, 9 people were in the intensive care unit with the virus.
(READ MORE:Without mask mandate for a month, is COVID-19 worse in Hamilton County?)
Where to get a COVID-19 vaccine
The Hamilton County Health Department is offering free COVID-19 vaccines at the Tennessee Riverpark for anyone age 12 and older. No appointment is necessary. To see the schedule of when vaccine events are happening, as well as other distribution locations, visit vaccine.hamiltontn.gov
Local health officials have urged residents to continue wearing masks if they are unvaccinated since those individuals do not have the same level of protection as vaccinated people. Most retailers in the Chattanooga area have dropped their mask requirement for shoppers after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last month vaccinated people would no longer be required to wear a face covering in most indoor settings.
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.