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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Nurses administer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Tennessee Riverpark on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. The Hamilton County Health Department continues to administer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Tennessee Riverpark location.

September was the fourth deadliest month for the COVID-19 pandemic in the region surrounding Chattanooga, and the deadliest month since the winter surge.

In the 21-county region of Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama, 351 people died from the virus in September, including 71 people in Hamilton County and 48 people in Whitfield County, Georgia.

The highest monthly totals for the same region, all of which came during the winter months, include 455 deaths in January 2021, 373 deaths in December 2020 and 366 deaths in February 2021.

In mid-September, the Hamilton County Health Department warned younger people were being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 compared to the previous surges. Younger individuals are less likely to die from the virus compared to older adults, but they are also less likely to be vaccinated and may be engaging in more high-risk activities.

In the four-month winter surge between November 2020 and February 2021, 46% of the hospitalizations and 71% of the deaths from the virus in Tennessee were residents 71 years old or older.

In the latest surge, the two-month period between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, 54% of new hospitalizations and 52% of new deaths were residents between the ages of 41 and 70 years old, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Also, between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, about one in three new cases in Tennessee were among residents younger than 20 years old. During the four-month winter surge, one in six new cases were reported in that age group.

(READ MORE: Tennessee gives update on monoclonal antibody shortage)

Doctors and health experts, including Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, have warned the current surge of hospitalizations and deaths may last longer than previous spikes because younger people are facing more serious infections.

"Patients who are younger typically have longer lengths of stay in the ICU, and if they are going to pass away, it's often more delayed than with older people," Piercey said during a news briefing on Wednesday.

On Friday, the Hamilton County Health Department reported 139 new infections and 177 people hospitalized with the virus. The hospitalization total was the lowest it has been since Aug. 12. Local case rates and hospitalizations have fallen in recent weeks, signaling the potential end of the surge caused by the delta variant.

As of Friday, 49% of Hamilton County residents were fully vaccinated, according to data from the county health department.

Dr. Mark Anderson, an infectious disease specialist at CHI Memorial Hospital, told the Times Free Press last week the low vaccination rate remains troubling.

"My concern though is that if we remain under-vaccinated, this is all just going to happen again," Anderson said.

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

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