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In Knox County, a record number of school-aged children are testing positive for COVID-19

The Tennessee Department of Health said 643 kids ages 5 to 18 tested positive for the virus last week. That's far more than the previous peak last winter.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn — This wave of COVID-19 looks different. Kids are getting sick — particularly those ages 5 to 18.

"In contrast to last year, when kids were by and large kind of left out or just didn't have that many infections, we've seen a huge increase in infections among school aged children," said Dr. John Graves, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. 

In Knox County alone, the state department of health reported an additional 643 new cases among those 5 to 18 in the past week.

That's significantly higher than the previous weekly high of 446 last winter.

"As you go down in age, the likelihood of being vaccinated goes down," Dr. Graves said. "There's been a big uptick in vaccinations among teenagers."

Credit: WBIR Data Team

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Statewide, cases and hospitalizations are surging among people of all ages. 

The Tennessee Department of Health reported a record number of people in intensive care units and on ventilators because of the virus this week.

"The pace in which i[hospitalizations rose] is the fastest we've seen over the entire pandemic," Dr. Graves said. "We're just adding more and more people to the hospitals every day."

Two East Tennessee hospitals have called the National Guard in for help as the number of patients grows and staffing shortages persist.

"It's just been overwhelming to our clinical personnel who are trying to take care of this kind of onslaught of individuals who are requiring hospitalization," Dr. Graves said. 

He noted that the patients hospitals are admitting are skewing younger than before. They're also largely unvaccinated.

"We've already protected a large fraction of the most elderly people in our state," Dr. Graves said. "It really underscores this point that COVID can befall anybody."