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The Hamilton County Health Department is now reporting the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations of residents outside the county who are currently getting treatment inside Hamilton County.

The data, first released on Friday, show that around half of current hospitalizations are local residents. On Wednesday 27 of 46 were people living in the county.

However, while many of the people now receiving treatment for the coronavirus have residences outside Hamilton County, Chattanooga's proximity to two other states — as well as being a regional hub for work, commerce and leisure — does not necessarily mean the risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus is lower for people who live in the county.

On Wednesday, the Times Free Press requested information from the health department about which other counties are contributing to local hospitalizations. Health Department administrator Becky Barnes said more specific information would not be made available.

"We are already asking hospitals to report a lot of information to us, and we understand that if we ask them to break it down any further it would take even more of their time," Barnes said in an email. "We want to be respectful of their time in this pandemic."

Local hospitals provided the number of people hospitalized in each county as of Wednesday afternoon. Of the patients outside Hamilton County who are currently hospitalized there, six came from Walker County, Georgia; followed by two each from Gordon, Whitfield and Catoosa counties in Georgia. DeKalb, Sequatchie, Jackson, Marion, Towns and Whitfield counties in Tennessee, as well as Wilkes County, Georgia, each had one.

People throughout the tri-state area rely on Chattanooga's hospitals for COVID-19 treatment. A Rossville nursing home that has experienced six coronavirus-related deaths has sent people across the state line to CHI Memorial for treatment.

For people in North Georgia and surrounding counties that are more rural, Chattanooga's hospitals are likely their best resource during the ongoing pandemic. The city is also a place where people in many surrounding communities come to work or shop.

Despite warnings from public health officials, cell phone data shows people are traveling at the same levels they were before the pandemic. Local leaders have also repeatedly warned people to take wearing a mask seriously when they are out in public.

Doctors have urged people to wear masks when they are out because the virus travels on respiratory droplets and can be spread by people not showing symptoms. Coughing and sneezing releases more droplets than talking, and the risk of coming into contact with virus particles increases with time spent around an infected individual and in close quarters with poor air circulation.

COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County continue trending upward at rates higher than in previous weeks. On Wednesday, the health department reported 47 new infections, bringing the county total to 1,988. The county is averaging 49 new COVID-19 infections a day over the past week.

There were 14 people in the intensive care unit with the virus on Wednesday, down from a high of 22 last week.

The health department announced two additional deaths on Wednesday — both Hispanic males between 51 and 70 years old, and both suffering from underlying health conditions. There have now been 24 COVID-19 deaths in the county.

With the recent deaths and continued increase in cases, the New York Times ranked Chattanooga as No. 6 on its list of growing coronavirus hotspots.

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

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