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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Nurse Practitioner Meghan Whitehead fills a syringe with the COVID-19 vaccine at LifeSpring Community Health on Wednesday, July 21, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hamilton County Health Department officials are sounding the alarm on the county's recent spike in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations fueled by the more contagious delta variant.

Health department administrator Becky Barnes said during a news conference Wednesday that "we have increases in both cases and hospitalizations of over 200% in the past two weeks.

"We're seeing an increase in cases occurring in persons under the age of 30 and seeing significant spread in families and groups," Barnes said. "From all the data that we're seeing, there is concern that a third wave is coming."

(READ MORE: New cases of COVID-19 rising in Hamilton County as delta variant circulates)

As of Wednesday, Hamilton County was averaging 47 new cases per day over the past week and hospitals were treating 60 patients compared to an average of 13 new cases and 14 coronavirus-related hospitalizations on July 1.

Barnes said getting more residents vaccinated against the coronavirus is the best way to ward off another COVID-19 wave.

"Our community has built great resources for vaccinations ... access should not be a reason for not getting vaccinated," she said, adding that people facing access issues can call the health department hotline at 423-209-8383 for help.

She also emphasized that unvaccinated people, including children who are not yet eligible to receive vaccines, should be wearing face masks "because COVID has not left our community."

Barnes urged anyone who feels sick or has COVID-19 symptoms to get tested and isolate from others, noting that even though the health department is no longer providing tests, many providers and drug stores still offer the service.

Dr. Fernando Urrego, interim Hamilton County health officer, said that a decision around whether or not to reinstate a county-wide mask mandate would be up to Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.

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