Opinion: No, COVID isn't gone. In Tennessee, it's on the rise again with a vengeance

Staff file photo / Tennessee COVID number are rising again, but masks appear to be retired.

As much as we'd like not to say this, COVID-19 is not gone.

Of course, you'd be hard pressed to know this by the information provided by the Tennessee Department of Health. The last time the state updated the COVID numbers on the Health Department's website was June 25.

You'd also be hard pressed to know COVID's upsurge by the precautions and masks you see around us here in Hamilton County. And no wonder. If you look at our state's web page and see that old data, you're likely to think our numbers must be so low the state sees no need to update us. There must be no problem. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

But for the record, COVID cases in Tennessee were up 26% last week. Statewide we had 8,590 cases on Tuesday. Our COVID hospitalization rate was up, too, by 27%. And deaths were up 14%.

In Hamilton County, we were seeing an average of 27 new cases per 100,000 population daily - and that was down a touch, by 3%. But our local COVID hospitalizations had skyrocketed by 63%.

These newer and more startling numbers come thanks to The New York Times, which counts as its sources state and local health agencies (for cases and deaths); U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (for test positivity and hospitalizations); the Census Bureau (for population and demographic data).

The Times' daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days. The percents of increase are based on cases per 100,000 population and contrasted with a 14-day change rate.

But if you look at the Tennessee Department of Health's web site, all you'll see is two-week-old news. June 25 was when Tennessee had 1.59 million confirmed cases and Hamilton County had 104,335 cases. We were already on the upswing from March's COVID lull. But nothing like now: Now that upswing is swinging up more.

In Hamilton County alone, we've had 1,801 new cases since June 25 (based on the more current Hamilton County numbers which on Wednesday were dated - YES! - July 6).

Perhaps our state officials are just wishing the pandemic away, as we all want to.

The trouble, of course, is wishes are just wishes and COVID blows rights past them.

Here's how much COVID is not going away:

Tennessee Health Department's website on March 31 showed 228 new daily cases - COVID had dropped to its lowest point this year. Since, (as of the state's two-week-old web update, COVID had zipped steadily back up to 2,233 new cases) Tuesday, per the New York Times, it was up to 8,590 cases.

Unfortunately our Tennessee elected officials are choosing not to notice COVID anymore.

Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center, which has been a mainstay of COVID data from the beginning, puts Tennessee numbers at more than 2.13 million confirmed cases and 26,722 deaths. JHU puts Tennessee's positivity rate at 13.14%, well above the optimal level of 5% or less.

What's more, Johns Hopkins puts Tennessee among the top five states and the District of Columbia where the percent of increase in cases in the past week are going up the most.

Our state lawmakers aren't just turning a blind eye to all this, they are aiding and abetting the virus, having last fall passed mandates against mandates for either masking or vaccinating, and announcing in January that they would largely stop counting cases.

They've clearly done just that. We mustn't let a virus get in the way of state tourism.

It's little wonder that masks are few and far between - even through the virus is not gone.