NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Health Commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, held a media briefing Friday at 11 a.m. to provide general information about the COVID-19 delta variant and updates on the state's vaccine efforts and outreach.
Dr. Piercey started off by saying that the state has seen over 200% increase in COVID-19 cases since July 1 and that over the last seven days the cases have been going up.
The average per day over the last seven days is 700 or over 700 cases per day and it continues to grow, she said.
"That is about where we were in early May," Dr. Piercey said.
She said that Tennessee is not anywhere close, at this point, to where it was in the months of November, December and January. However, it is a noticeable uptick with no signs of slowing.
There has also been an increase in the positivity rate. Tennessee got under 3% a few weeks ago but now it is approaching 10%. Some counties are up to 15% and a few higher than 20%, Dr. Piercey said.
The positivity rate has resulted in an uptick in hospitalizations to well over 500.
As of now, there hasn't been an increase in deaths. She said that it will probably come in the next few weeks due to the lagging indicator, which means that it takes a couple of weeks from a person getting sick to being hospitalized and then dying.
Dr. Piercey wants to remind people that almost all cases of severe illness are amongst those who are unvaccinated.
About 97% of hospitalizations are unvaccinated people, and more than 98% of deaths reported are from that group as well.
She also said that there have been reports of breakthrough cases, meaning people who get infected after being vaccinated.
To date, there have been over 1,000 breakthrough cases, of that number, 195 ended up in hospitalizations and 27 resulted in deaths.
"Almost a quarter of them are asymptomatic," Dr. Piercey said.
The Tennessee Department of Health has seen that those seriously ill are individuals with likely compromised immune systems. In Tennessee, over half of those cases are people 60 and over.
Dr. Piercey talked about the delta variant, which originated in India, saying that it is Tennessee.
Testing is required to identify variants and sent to special labs which takes time to get the results, causing a backlog.
"We do believe that the delta variant is the predominant variant in Tennessee," Dr. Piercey said.
She explained that the TDH doesn't have an exact number of cases, but here's a high percentage approaching 80% similar to that of the nation.
The delta variant is more visible in Memphis due to outbreaks in Missouri and Arkansas.
The delta variant is highly transmissible than other variants, but she said that they are not sure if it makes a person sicker.
"Vaccine is the number one way to protect yourself against the delta variant or any of the variants," she said.
She said that TDH is still continuing with vaccination efforts but they have seen that private providers are offering the vast majority of immunizations.
They are still trying to reach the vulnerable and minority population as well as homebound individuals.
TDH is planning to do a second round of market research to investigate vaccine hesitancy. This is set to start in early fall. The goal is to see if it has changed or if there are new ones to address.
When it comes to the message related to the COVID-19 vaccine, directly aimed at children, Dr. Piercey said that they are changing their marketing efforts because it goes against the view of the importance of parental authority.
"We strongly believe parents are the best decision-makers when it comes to medical decisions for their children," Dr. Piercey added.
TDH wants to make sure all marketing materials are appropriate.
In regards to the recent firing of Dr. Michelle Fiscus, she said, "I will not be commenting further on the specifics of that."