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Health commissioner: Shrinking hospital capacity concerning to state officials

In the first 15 days of August, there have been 1,023 hospitalizations across the state, officials said.

Already snug before the latest virus rise, hospitals across Tennessee are seeing an uptick in both adult and pediatric patients that's raising concerns among state health officials.

In the first 15 days of August, there have been 1,023 hospitalizations across the state, state Health Department Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey told reporters Monday. That's higher than the number for any full month during the pandemic, she said.

Spanish Version: Comisionada de TDH: La reducción de la capacidad hospitalaria preocupa a los funcionarios del estado

"We've already had more hospitalizations in the first half of August than we have had in any total month in the pandemic," Piercey said.

An increase of COVID-19 patients is one reason, but it's not the only reason, she said.

Capacity already was strained in Tennessee hospitals. That's in part because of a lack of adequate staffing. In addition, hospitals also were tending to more patients who needed other kinds of care for more routine needs such as heart ailments and strokes when the latest COVID-19 case count increase hit.

Patient counts are up for both adults and children. Hospitals are seeing more adult COVID-19 patients. But for pediatric care centers, other maladies such as the RSV virus are primarily responsible for the increase, she said.

Currently there are about 2,200 patients in hospitals in Tennessee, she said. About 45 children are in the hospital, she said.

More than 660 people were in intensive care units in the state, Piercey said. A little more than two in five of those patients are COVID patients.

The vast majority of virus patients who are hospitalized didn't get a vaccine beforehand, she said.

Hospitals are responding to the rising patient numbers in a variety of ways including putting off some elective surgeries, she said.

The state is moving to help where it can, Piercey said. For example, some staff when they are able are being allowed to take on more demanding medical duties.

Also, starting Monday, the state planned to use small groups of National Guard members at hospitals in need for some duties. Last year, the National Guard was used widely to help with virus testing.

The state also has federal money available to help cover staffing needs at some hospitals, Piercey said.

The health commissioner urged everyone who has not gotten a vaccination to go ahead and do so.

"It’s convenient, it's safe, it's highly effective and it's not too late," she said.

Trends indicate more Tennesseans are stepping up to get the shot, she said.

Over the past month, authorities have seen week over week vaccination rates increase -- from about 58,000 a week to over 100,000 a week.

"Many of those are first doses," Piercey said. "Tennesseans are coming in higher numbers to get vaccinated."

Recent federal action has now cleared the way for some patients to get a third, "booster" shot as needed. People in that category include HIV patients and people getting cancer treatments.

Boosters will be available in the Pfizer and Moderna shots; a booster for those who have already had the Johnson & Johnson are not yet available.

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