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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Hamilton County Health Department Administrator of Health Services Becky Barnes speaks during a press conference at the Hamilton County Health Department's Golley Auditorium on Monday, July 6, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Hamilton County Health Department reported a record-high number of hospitalizations and new COVID-19 cases Tuesday as some of the key metrics for measuring the pandemic show worsening trends.

There are 78 people hospitalized with the virus in the county and 15 people in the intensive care unit.

The department reported 175 new infections, bringing the countywide total to 3,684. The county is averaging 100 new cases a day in the past week, the highest daily average since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, the turnaround time for people to get coronavirus test results back is increasing. Previously people could expect to get their results in two days but that has increased to three or four days, said Becky Barnes, health department administrator, during a Tuesday news conference.

"We want to urge anyone with symptoms that comes to get tested to isolate yourself as you're instructed to do in the letter we give you," Barnes said. "If you're having symptoms, isolate yourself until you get the results back."

The county hopes to return to the shorter turnaround time by July 20, Barnes said.

The health department tested nearly 2,000 people in the past two days at its East Brainerd High School testing site. The weekend testing partnership with Olivet Baptist Church tested more than 1,000 people, Barnes said.

Health officials are continuing to monitor the increasing number of hospitalizations.

Rae Bond, CEO of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society and chair of the county's COVID-19 task force, said leaders are looking at contingency plans such as an overflow hospital at the Alstom site, as well as other possibilities, if the trend continues. On Monday, there were 111 hospitalizations in the broader region, which includes Tennova Healthcare in Cleveland and Hamilton Health Care System in Dalton, Bond said.

The increasing number of cases has stretched contact tracing resources as an increasing number of cases cannot be linked to a previously known case, meaning there is community spread of the virus.

"It's extremely important for folks to answer phone calls that they might be receiving from unknown numbers, especially in the days after they have been tested, and to cooperate with the health department on contact tracing," Bond said. "We think that we're seeing significantly more community spread."

Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee health commissioner, said during a news conference Tuesday that Hamilton County is not alone in its growing hospitalizations and new cases. Health systems in all of the state's six metro counties are feeling "strain" from the influx of patients, Piercey said.

None of Tennessee's health systems are currently in "crisis mode," she said.

Although the number of patients in intensive care and on ventilators is also increasing statewide, those numbers are not increasing at the same rate as overall hospitalizations.

Barnes, as well as Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's chief of staff, Kerry Hayes, said there is good compliance with the countywide mask mandate, which went into effect Friday. Free masks are still available at the health department, Barnes said.

On Tuesday, the city of Chattanooga announced a symptom survey to help people identify the signs of the coronavirus. Data from the survey is anonymous at the ZIP code level and will be used by the county's COVID-19 task force, said Tim Moreland, director of the office of performance management and open data for the city.

The survey does not take the place of testing but provides more data for understanding where the virus is and locating potential hotspots, especially when there is a delay between getting the test and getting the test results, Moreland said.

"There's a lag between when symptoms onset to when the person gets tested to when test results come back and when they're actually contacted by the Hamilton County Health Department. So one of the things we're hoping this will do is reduce that lag in early detection for certain locations," he said.

Residents can access the survey at cha.city/covidsurvey

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

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