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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Robin Hoffecker fills doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a student vaccination event at Chattanooga State on Aug. 20 in Chattanooga. The event, put on by the city in partnership with Lifespring, was the first of a new incentive program that offered students 12 and up $100 to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Hamilton County and the surrounding region experienced a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in August, a step back in months of progress against the pandemic.

Hamilton County reported 40 new COVID-19 deaths in August, higher than the previous four months combined.

The 21-county region including Hamilton County, which includes parts of Georgia and Alabama, reported 114 COVID-19 deaths in August, according to each state's statewide health department.

That figure is well short of the single-month record of 455 in January, but it represents the most significant increase in deaths since early spring, when case totals dropped dramatically.

The spread of the delta variant erased Hamilton County's summer progress against the pandemic as the vaccination pace dropped in the late spring and the highly contagious variant sent hospital levels surging. As of Tuesday, a record-high 280 people were hospitalized with the virus in Hamilton County hospitals, according to the Hamilton County Health Department.

The record for single-day total hospitalizations was broken four times in the final week of August as health care workers became demoralized and burnt out by the recent surge.

Spikes in deaths typically follow several weeks after a surge in hospitalizations, though it is possible an increase in deaths may not be as large as during the winter given many of the most at-risk people in the area are vaccinated and vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious infection and death.

Schools are also struggling to deal with the spike in cases, particularly among young children. Just weeks into the school year, five Hamilton County schools have shifted to remote learning, with other schools in different districts across the region doing the same.

Several Tennessee counties, including Coffee and Polk, had some months this summer during which total deaths decreased in a given month, typically the result of the residence of the deceased being misreported at the time. The data made available by state health departments is often preliminary at the time it is first reported, since some data points may shift as more is learned about individual cases or deaths.

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

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