Hamilton County is averaging 93 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past week, approaching near-record levels as coronavirus cases surge across Tennessee and the United States.
On Friday, the Hamilton County Health Department reported 104 new COVID-19 cases — the third day in a row that the number of new cases in the county surpassed 100.
Hospitalizations remain higher than they've been in two months. Although most of the current patients are from outlying counties, the number of Hamilton County residents in local hospitals jumped from 19 on Thursday to 36 on Friday.
It's hard to draw meaningful conclusions from one day of data, since hospitals report their COVID-19 patients at a point in time, and patient volumes can fluctuate throughout the day. However, Friday's report represents the highest level of Hamilton County residents in local hospitals either suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 this month.
Becky Barnes, Hamilton County health department administrator, said in an email that it's difficult to say whether the current case spike is a "normal fluctuation" or something more. There are no specific clusters driving the current increase, she said.
"There were spikes in July and August, with a flattening in September. Although we have not yet reached the July numbers, we are not sure where this current spike will go," Barnes said. "Anytime daily case counts begin to increase, it means we as a community need to increase our efforts and vigilance against the virus."
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Jay Sizemore said during an Erlanger Health System board meeting on Thursday that although Erlanger is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 patients — particularly from areas across the region that do not have mask mandates — the hospital's personal protective equipment and testing supplies remain strong.
"We feel very comfortable if there were to be a continued increase in cases with the PPE that we currently have that we would be able to serve our patients and our community for some time, even in the absence of any additional supplies," he said.
So far, the rising number of new cases and hospitalizations has not resulted in more deaths. That's because it can take several weeks for deaths to reflect in the data, and medical providers are better trained and equipped to treat sick patients.
The virus is also impacting younger age groups more than older ones — unlike the early days of the pandemic.
Over the last seven days, most new cases in Hamilton County have been reported among those ages 21 to 30 (126 cases), followed by ages 41 to 50 (109 cases) and 31 to 40 (97 cases).
Barnes said she realizes that the pandemic is "wearing on everyone," but the community must continue to wear face coverings, social distance and avoid groups of people.
"As weather begins to get cooler and days shorter, we naturally spend more time indoors. This indoor environment is much more efficient for virus transmission," she said. "We must remember that the preventive measures are in place to reduce suffering, death, and the burden on our local health care system and resources."
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