Hamilton County's record COVID-19 case levels persist, 1,000 deaths surpassed

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Greg Roberts takes a nasal swab for a COVID-19 test at a temporary community testing site set up by Athena Esoterix on Signal Mountain Road on Thursday, January 6, 2022.

The weekly average for new COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County is at its highest point of the pandemic so far as the highly-contagious omicron variant continues to infect a record number of residents.

Hamilton County averaged 734 new reported cases per day in the past seven days, according to health department data posted Thursday. Even that record-breaking figure is an undercount due to the rise in at-home tests, which health department officials say rarely get reported.

More than 1,000 county residents have now died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began - a grim milestone that was passed this week - and local hospitals were treating 282 coronavirus patients as of Thursday's report.

"This statistic is a reminder that this pandemic is not over and that COVID is still here and thriving in our community," Sabrina Novak, Hamilton County Health Department administrator, said in a news release after the county surpassed the 1,000 fatality threshold Wednesday.

(READ MORE: 2021 COVID-19 death toll in Hamilton County exceeds 2020 due to delta variant, low vaccination rate)

COVID-19 had killed 1,007 county residents as of Thursday.

"Each one of these deaths was an individual; they were someone's mother, father, sister, brother or friend. Our deepest sympathies and condolences to all those who have lost loved ones; they leave a hole in our community that cannot be replaced," Novak said.

Residents from outside Hamilton County are now driving new COVID-19 hospitalizations locally - a trend that's held with each COVID-19 surge as the viral spread works its way into more rural communities, according to data from the health department.

Dr. Jay Sizemore, an infectious disease specialist at Erlanger Health System, said during a recent public hospital board meeting that hospitals across the region are overwhelmed by a large influx of patients on top of severe staffing shortages.

As of Sunday, there were 3,442 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state - which is slightly more than during the winter 2020-21 surge and just below the summer-fall surge of the delta variant, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

At the time of Sunday's report, COVID-19 patients accounted for 29% of all hospitalizations in Tennessee.

The department of health began reporting COVID-19 data on a weekly basis as opposed to daily starting in January.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.