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This story was updated at 6:59 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, with more information.

The global coronavirus pandemic has now claimed the lives of at least 17 Hamilton County residents as the Hamilton County Health Department reported two new fatalities on Tuesday.

In a news release sent Tuesday afternoon, health department officials said the deaths were unrelated to each other, and one of the deaths was an individual aged 40-45 who had no underlying medical conditions.

"This case illustrates that anyone is susceptible and could die from the disease," Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes said in the release. "Both of these deaths were also among our vulnerable populations of African-American and Hispanic communities. The health department continues to make efforts to reach these populations with free testing nearby, thorough contact tracing and educational information they need to protect themselves and their families."

Vulnerable populations include those who have language barriers or trouble accessing medical care, maintaining independence or accessing transportation.

Health department data reveal that multigenerational households are also vulnerable to COVID-19 because it is difficult if not impossible for sick individuals to isolate from the other residents. Oftentimes, these same households are supported by essential workers who are exposed to the virus in their workplace and then bring the infection to the household, health department officials said.

The county now has 1,178 confirmed people with COVID-19, with 33 hospitalizations, including 15 people in intensive care, according to health department data. Of those confirmed cases, 524 have recovered.

The last time a local COVID-19 death was reported was May 26.

Rae Bond, chairwoman of the local COVID-19 Task Force, said during a news briefing Tuesday that although COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on the rise, the hospitals are not overwhelmed and are able to safely care for all patients.

"We're seeing a small uptick in hospitalizations, but the hospitals are all reporting that they have adequate testing supplies, adequate [personal protective equipment] and they remain fully operational," Bond said.

She emphasized the importance of patients not avoiding needed health care.

"There have been some very negative outcomes, because people delayed care and their health situations escalated. We continue to say this message, because it's really important. We have a great deal of confidence in the way the hospitals have organized and are caring for patients," she said.

Bond said while the ongoing rise in new cases is troubling, it's also a sign that testing is reaching more people, particularly some more vulnerable and underserved populations that may have had a harder time accessing testing early on.

During the week of May 22-28, 4,180 COVID-19 tests were performed in Hamilton County, revealing 422 positive cases, or a 10.1% positivity rate for that week, according to a news release from the health department.

The Hamilton County Laboratory at Baylor School performed 1,871 of those lab tests with 270 positives for a 14.4% positivity rate.

The daily positive cases reported from the May 22-28 time span on the health department's data page will not match this number because they post positive counts on the day they receive them, not on the day the specimen was collected.

These results are inclusive of more than 40 laboratories around the region processing samples collected from community testing sites, hospitals and private providers throughout Hamilton County.

"The health department wants to find every positive case that's out there," Barnes said in a seperate news release.

"We ask that residents continue to cooperate by staying home if sick, follow the health department's guidance for quarantine and isolation, practice social distancing outside your household unit, wear masks where it's difficult to social distance and frequently wash hands or use hand sanitizer. These are the only measures we have as a community to contain this virus."

Bond said one spot of good news is that recent testing events at group and senior living sites have returned mostly negative results.

For a list of free testing events this week, go to bit.ly/c19testing.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com.

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