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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Workers collect samples to test for COVID-19 at Brainerd High School on Monday, July 20, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Hamilton County Health Department announced a new COVID-19 death Tuesday, bringing the county total to 41 as the numbers of hospitalizations and people in the intensive care unit continue to break single-day records.

The death reported Tuesday — a Black woman between 71 and 80 years old — is the 11th death this month.

The health department reported 121 hospitalizations and 30 people in the ICUs as well, up from the previous record high a day earlier with 116 hospitalizations and 29 people in the ICUs. The number of hospitalizations also includes individuals who are at hospitals awaiting test results for suspected infection.

Increases in hospitalizations in the county continue to be driven by the virus' impact on surrounding counties. Just 44 of the 121 total hospitalizations reported Tuesday were of Hamilton County residents. Tuesday marked the 8th time the single-day hospitalization record was broken this month.

Despite the continued growth in patients, personal protective equipment and testing supplies in local hospitals are adequate, Rae Bond, chairwoman of the local COVID-19 Task Force, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Several sites across the county have been tapped as possible alternative care locations should the need arise. However, Bond said the hospitals are able to handle the current patient load without a need to offload patients. The Alstom site along Riverfront Parkway, sometimes called "Big Blue," is the only one of the possible surge sites publicly announced.

Dean Flener, spokesman for Gov. Bill Lee's Unified Command group responding to coronavirus, said in an email that the state "is monitoring closely the increases in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations, working with the Tennessee Hospital Association and receiving updates on statewide hospital capacity, and communicating daily with local leaders" about possible surge plans.

"The state is first committed to assisting hospitals with the implementation of their internal surge planning to be able to extend their capacity and care for as many patients as possible in the hospital setting. In the unlikely event that the state needs to build out an alternate care site in Chattanooga, it would treat acute, non-critical, stable COVID-positive patients," Flener said.

Hospitalization surges often follow a surge in confirmed cases — which began again in Hamilton County near the end of June and have shown no sign of slowing throughout July — and it can take weeks from the time that people become infected to the time that COVID-19 progresses to the point of needing hospital care.

While Hamilton County's new public face mask requirement — which went into effect July 10 — will hopefully bring some needed relief, it could take several more weeks before local transmission begins to slow down as a result, Bond said.

There's also a risk that transmission will spike when schools return and because COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in the rural counties that surround Chattanooga and rely on its hospitals.

"One of the challenges that we face as a community is that we're surrounded by a lot of communities. We're very mobile in our region," Bond said Tuesday. "We're surrounded by a lot of communities that don't have mask mandates — people travel back and forth."

(READ MORE: Where the coronavirus outbreak is worsening in the Chattanooga region)

It's normal for coronavirus hospitalization numbers to fluctuate based on the time of reporting and how many patients have been admitted or discharged on a given day. However, some COVID-19 patients wind up staying in the hospital for more than a month, making it hard to gauge how long the current growth of patients in Hamilton County hospitals will continue.

The median length of hospitalization among coronavirus survivors is around 10 to 13 days, and between 26% and 32% of patients who are admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 wind up in intensive care, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health department reported 101 new infections Tuesday, bringing the county total to 4,461 with 2,832 people recovered. The county is averaging 111 new cases a day in the past week.

Whether the ongoing upward trend in cases is due to more infections or increases in testing is unclear. An accurate positivity rate for tests cannot be calculated, since the health department does not regularly update the number of tests completed. The department has not updated the number of negative tests it has recorded for 11 days.

New cases are increasingly driven by people under 30 years old, who now account for 42% of Hamilton County's confirmed COVID-19 cases.

"People of all ages are being impacted, and conversely, people of all ages can be asymptomatic and share the virus with others that they know and love," Bond said.

The Tennessee Department of Health reported 2,190 new infections Tuesday as the state averages 2,165 new cases a day. There are now 81,944 total infections and 871 deaths in Tennessee since the pandemic began.

Last week, Tennessee was among 18 states considered in the "red zone" and in need of stricter measures to stop the spread of the virus, according to a White House Coronavirus Task Force report that was leaked. The recommendations for states in the red zone were mostly targeted to responding to where local outbreaks are happening, such as closing bars and gyms in hot-spot counties and mandating face coverings.

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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