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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department Administrator of Health Services Becky Barnes speaks during a press conference in the Golley Auditorium at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department on Monday, May 18, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Hamilton County Health Department announced 40 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the county's total case count to 487 and continuing the trend of more than three weeks of rising cases.

Health department administrator Becky Barnes said people should not focus on the newly-released ZIP codes where cases are listed because that is where people live, and many work outside of those areas.

"As long as the virus is here, we don't want anyone to have that false sense of security that 'I don't live in that ZIP code so therefore I'm not at risk,'" Barnes said. "The virus is very communicable."

Thursday's increase continues a surge of new cases in Hamilton County, with the area averaging 23 new cases a day over the past week, more than six times the average on May 1 and higher than at any other point during the pandemic.

There are now 33 cases connected to Chattanooga's poultry processing plants, including 29 at Koch Foods and four at Pilgrim's Pride, Barnes said.

The day after the health department released a map with the exact number of COVID-19 cases in each ZIP code, the department released a cluster map detailing where clusters of cases are in the county. The department defines a cluster as two or more people in an area who are not in the same household and were exposed to the virus by the same person.

There are six ZIP codes in the county with workplace clusters, including three in 37405, three in 37408, three in 37421, two in 37403, one in 37406 and one in 37343.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger emphasized that none of the new cases in recent weeks have been linked to reopening as the county continues to allow more businesses to return to work.

Friday also marked a slight drop in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations after a week of rising numbers. There are now 16 people hospitalized because of the virus, down from 19 on May 18 but still double what it was on May 1.

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

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