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In this April 21, 2020 photo, masks used to protect health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic hang from a line after being sanitized with ultraviolet light at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — A new Vanderbilt University School of Medicine health policy report released Thursday found hospitalization increases more pronounced in Tennessee than any previous time during the pandemic.

The highest rates of documented cases per 100,000 are concentrated among younger age groups that are less likely to be vaccinated, according to John Graves, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt and the study's lead author. That includes teenagers.

Graves and colleagues said the emergence of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, "coupled with a return towards normalcy in mobility and behavior, has resulted in a surge in infections and hospitalizations. Since mid-July, the rate of increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations has been higher than at any point in the pandemic."

There were 2,497 hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, which Graves said was a ten-fold increase in just over a month.

"Tennessee is now experiencing its highest growth in hospitalizations than at any point in the pandemic," according to the Vanderbilt analysis. "As of this writing, intensive care resource use for COVID-19 patients is at 91% of its previous peak.

"These trends suggest that if recent growth continues, Tennessee may soon eclipse high-water marks in ICU and ventilation use last seen in January," the analysis said.

"What was surprising to me a lot of that growth [in cases] has occurred among teenagers," Graves told the Times Free Press.

The analysis shows the highest rates of documented COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population are concentrated among younger age groups that are less likely to be vaccinated. Vaccines are not approved for use by those under 12, and teenagers were approved for vaccines late in the pandemic and have been slow to get the shots.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher.

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