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The number of people now in intensive care units with COVID-19 remained at a record high Tuesday as the Hamilton County Health Department announced the 46th local death from the virus.

The death — a white man more than 81 years old — is the 16th death this month, surpassing June as the deadliest month for the virus since the pandemic began. On Tuesday, the health department reported 85 hospitalizations, including 30 people in intensive care, along with 141 new infections, bringing the county total to 5,203.

On Monday, the county surpassed 5,000 total infections, doubling its total from the start of the month.

Hospitalizations have come under increased focus by local leaders in recent weeks as discussions have resumed about possible overflow sites if hospital capacity is reached.

Meanwhile, the number of critical care beds in North Georgia is dwindling as the virus worsens there, particularly in Whitfield County. The region of the Georgia Department of Public Health that includes Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield, Murray, Gordon, Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens counties typically has between 45 and 50 beds available. On Monday, nine were free.

Rae Bond, chairwoman of Hamilton County's COVID-19 task force, said Chattanooga's hospitals are treating patients from the surrounding area, including from across state lines. Part of the plan to increase hospital capacity involves accounting for regional spikes, though local hospitals still have available beds, she said.

Bond encouraged people to sign up with the Tennessee Medical Reserve Corps if they are interested in helping staff beds should an overflow site become necessary.

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

The average number of new cases a day in the county is beginning to trend upward again after a plateau. But the turnaround time for test results is starting to decrease, Bond said. Earlier this month, people were having to wait four days to get results.

"As we dramatically stepped up testing throughout the state of Tennessee, some of the labs were a bit overwhelmed, but a number of the capacities did increase so we're once again seeing improvement in the turnaround time for testing, which is extremely important," Bond said.

Kerry Hayes, chief of staff for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, said expanded unemployment benefits ending at the end of the month will be "incredibly problematic" for Tennesseans.

More than 285,000 state residents have been receiving the expanded unemployment compensation of $600 a week as part of COVID-19 relief, as well as unemployment payments from the state. Unless Congress extends those benefits, people will return to state benefits only. Tennessee unemployment payments top out at $275 a week, the fourth-lowest maximum unemployment compensation in the nation.

"As pressures on local government continue to mount, particularly as we're starting to see some of the federal supports fall away like that extra unemployment benefit, we know that the demands on our services are going to increase rather sharply in the next couple weeks and months and we really need the federal government to intervene to make sure we have the resources to help people," Hayes said.

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

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