This story was updated at 5:24 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, with more information.
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Two people now are known to have died from the new coronavirus in Hamilton County.
At a news conference late Wednesday, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department confirmed the first two known COVID-19 related deaths in the county as well as spikes in the number of people being monitored, quarantined and confirmed cases of the virus, continuing a streak of worsening numbers.
One of the deceased was a Hamilton County resident over 65 years old with underlying illnesses who died in the hospital, according to officials. The other person died of the virus in a local hospital, but is not a local resident and that death will not be reflected in county data.
No further identifying information about either patient was shared by the county out of respect for the families, according to Mayor Jim Coppinger.
"Our entire community mourns the loss of any resident or any person from another county, state or wherever ... we mourn the loss with their families," Coppinger said. "We're going to respect these families and not provide any information as it relates to personal [information] ... we don't think that's as pertinent as that our community grieves with the families."
The county was unable to confirm at which hospitals the fatalities occurred, if they were in the same facility or how many patients are now hospitalized with the virus in the county.
For the second time this week, Hamilton County reported a significant jump in its number of confirmed cases, jumping to 25 from 15 on Tuesday and 8 on Monday.
Most of the known cases are in the oldest and highest-risk age group, with 11 reported among those 65 and older, three cases among those between 50 and 64, seven among those 18-49 and the five newest cases not yet categorized.
Twelve of the cases are men, nine are women and the other five remain uncategorized. Of the 21 categorized cases, 19 are white, one is black and one is Asian, according to the health department.
As the number of known cases grows, the number of those under quarantine or being monitored by the county also swells.
The health department reported Wednesday 126 people are in quarantine and 56 more are being "actively" monitored by the department, up from 77 combined monitored or quarantined the day before.
In a bit of good news, the department was able to confirm that victims in eight known cases had recovered from the virus locally.
The county also announced a local preparatory school will begin testing local samples for the virus Thursday morning at a rate of 65 per day, which will rise to 300 as soon as next week. With just 272 total results returned to the county from all other regional labs combined over the last two weeks, Coppinger believes the additional testing will help identify cases and prevent the spread of the virus locally.
"We're really hopeful this will help contain the spread," he told the Times Free Press. "Testing is a problem across the country, but we hope this will help here locally."
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.
How we report on coronavirus numbers
Confirmed case data only provides a snapshot of the coronavirus outbreak and shouldn't be taken as an accurate reflection of how many people are currently infected.
Laboratories are required to report positive COVID-19 test results to local health departments, such as the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, as soon as results are available in order to support a rapid response. The Tennessee Department of Health and other state department numbers are updated at set times during the day, so there may be a lag in the reporting of state level data.
It's impossible to know how many COVID-19 tests are pending, since both public and private labs are used for testing, and providers do not report when a sample is collected. Negative results are sometimes available depending on the agency and its method of tracking COVID-19.
The Times Free Press uses numbers from credible county, state, national and international public health agency sources in our coverage of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases. The newspaper also may report on COVID-19 cases that the newspaper has independently verified in an effort to keep our readers as informed as possible.
All data are subject to variations and changes based on access, availability, methods and other factors that can affect data collection, making health data rarely perfect.
— Elizabeth Fite