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'We are concerned' | COVID-19 hospitalizations hit record highs in Tennessee

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said hospitalizations have risen rapidly, despite moderate increases in case counts and testing positivity rates.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In East Tennessee, COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising quickly.  As of Tuesday, at least 264 people were hospitalized for the virus, regional data from the Knox County Health Department showed.

"These are the highest numbers that our region has seen since the pandemic began," said KCHD Director Dr. Martha Buchanan. "Our community members should pay close attention to this metric, and take it very seriously."

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the state is seeing a similar trend.

"You've likely noticed that cases are going up and positivity rates are going up, but it's kind of moderate in its increase," Dr. Piercey said on Friday. "What's not moderate, is the rapid rise in hospitalizations."

As of Thursday, data from the Tennessee Department of Health showed 1,168 people were currently hospitalized in Tennessee due to COVID-19. That is slightly above the previous high set on July 29.

"We are seeing much more penetration of this virus in our rural communities," Dr. Piercey said. "Generally speaking, our rural communities have larger proportions of older and sicker or comorbid individuals."

Gov. Bill Lee said he was watching the numbers closely on Friday.

"We are concerned," he said. "We certainly look try to look for reasons that may be attached to case rise."

The Tennessee Department of Health defines East Tennessee as a 16-county region including Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier and Union counties.

A review by the 10News data team found the East Tennessee counties outside of Knox reported 3,404 new cases of COVID-19 and 49 new deaths from October 1 to 17.

That's a steep increase from the 2,089 new cases and 29 new deaths reported September 1 to 17. Hospitalization data reflects similar trends.

"These are pretty extensive stays. They require quite a bit of medication and treatment and recovery," Dr. Piercey said. "Remember, even when you get out of the hospital, you are almost certainly not well. You still have a long recovery ahead of you."

Dr. Piercey said the average length of stay is nine days and the average age of someone hospitalized is 70 years old. 

"If you're under 70, I don't want you to stop paying attention," she said. "We know our older family and friends are getting it from those of us who are younger."