June was the deadliest month in the COVID-19 pandemic in Hamilton County since the virus was first reported in the area nearly four months ago.
Deaths in the county nearly doubled, from 15 to 30, during the month, including one suspected death from March that was reported in June. Of these deaths, 10 were male and seven were Hispanic. On June 23, the Hamilton County Health Department announced the second COVID-19 death of a local child — a one-year-old Hispanic girl. The total number of infections more than doubled in June, from 1,132 to 2,525, as well.
Chattanooga received national attention for being an emerging death hotspot when the region appeared as #2 on The New York Times' list of "places that could flare up next" on June 22. The area, including Cleveland, had appeared on the list previously as places with increasing cases.
Total hospitalizations have dropped slightly in recent weeks and stood at 45 on Tuesday, easing some concern that Tennessee could see more than 1,000 hospitalizations in July or August, according to a report from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Infections began to surge in May in Hamilton County, doubling nearly three times that month. The new cases brought along a surge of hospitalizations, which often happen weeks after exposure.
The local health department's ability to contact trace and link cases has been stretched thin after the month-long surge. Around 42% of cases in the county can now be linked to another case, down from around 50% to start the month, and a sign that Chattanooga is experiencing community spread, including infections at businesses that are reopening.
In North Georgia, the virus' impact surged in June. Whitfield County surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases on Sunday and a nursing home in Rossville reported its ninth coronavirus death.
In Hamilton County, June continued to widen the disparity in COVID-19 infections and deaths, a trend that began during the case surge in May. According to data released by the health department Tuesday, Hispanic residents who make up 6% of the county population account for 58% of the confirmed cases and a third of the deaths in the county.
Hamilton County has the worst reported Hispanic disparity among the four major metropolitan counties in Tennessee.
The closing days of June have shown signs of promise for the region. The county is currently averaging 45 new cases a day over the past week, down from the 63 it was averaging at the start of the month. Hospitalizations and people in the intensive care unit remain about the same as they were June 1.
On Tuesday, the health department announced 56 new infections of the virus. There are currently 18 people in the ICU. Since the pandemic began, 1,535 people have recovered in Hamilton County. The department announced a new death Tuesday, a Black man between 71 and 80 years old.
Local elected officials and public health leaders continue to ask the public to wear masks to stop the spread of the virus, which can transfer from person to person through respiratory droplets that are released when someone is speaking or coughing.
However, Tennesseans are among the least likely Americans to wear masks, and some Hamilton County residents dismiss the science that says masks are effective in protecting others.
This week, local leaders announced they are weighing the possibility of enacting a mask mandate.
Contact Wyatt Massey at email@example.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.