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Record numbers of hospitalizations and people in intensive care units with COVID-19 in Hamilton County were again reported Monday, continuing a weeklong upward trend of people needing medical care for the coronavirus.

The Hamilton County Health Department reported 29 people in the ICU and 116 people hospitalized, including 51 county residents, all of which are records since the pandemic began. The total number of hospitalizations also includes people who are at hospitals awaiting test results for suspected infection.

Hospitalizations, particularly ICU patients, are often seen as a key metric to understand the impact of the virus. Last week, local leaders indicated that discussions have begun about using the proposed Alstom site for overflow capacity. Monday marked the seventh time since July 1 the county announced a record-high number of hospitalizations.

More than half of the current hospitalizations are people from outside Hamilton County, underscoring the importance Chattanooga's three hospitals play in serving the region. At the same time, the virus is worsening in more rural areas, including Bradley County, Tennessee, and Whitfield County, Georgia.

Over the weekend and including Monday, the health department announced 317 new infections, bringing the countywide total to 4,360. The county is averaging 122 new cases a day in the past week, the highest number since the pandemic began. So far, 2,608 people have recovered from the virus.

(READ MORE: Amid coronavirus, masks are not 100% effective, but then neither are seat belts)

Meanwhile, discussions continue locally and nationwide about children returning to school in a matter of weeks.

Hamilton County Public Schools said last week the district was leaning toward its Phase 2 plan, which involves reducing on-campus attendance for students to two days a week. The rest of the school week would be done remotely. The first full day of school is scheduled for Aug. 12.

Last week, the Unity Group of Chattanooga released a statement in support of greater federal funding for schools, including money for personal protective equipment and distance learning resources. The group called for increased testing and following the advice of medical professionals, many of whom are saying it is still unsafe to return to in-person classes.

"It is a very real probability that the beginning of the school year will be one that is dependent upon remote and distance learning, and we must ensure that each and every teacher and student has the technological and digital resources needed in order to meet this transition," the Unity Group's statement read.

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

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