KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is rising across East Tennessee, according to health leaders. At the same time, the number of people in the ICU has not increased as quickly.
Dr. James Shamiyeh from the University of Tennessee Medical Center gave an update on the COVID-19 situation from a hospital's perspective. During the update, he said 429 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus in medical facilities in East Tennessee.
UT Medical Center also increases in the number of hospitalizations — with 112 people in the hospital as of Jan. 13. That is around double the number of people hospitalized compared to the start of January.
However, UT Medical Center has not seen a major increase in the number of people being treated in the ICU. Shamiyeh said he saw that as a positive compared to the wave of COVID-19 cases from the Delta variant.
While the East Tennessee area may not have as many hospitalizations as the previous peak, Shamiyeh mentioned that the Memphis area has already reported more hospitalizations than the last peak.
The Knoxville District around half the number of people as the previous peak, while the Memphis area reported 102% of the previous peak of hospitalizations.
During the update, Shamiyeh also discussed a term he said he saw more regularly during this surge: 'incidental COVID-19 hospitalization.' It is when patients arrive at a hospital for something unrelated to the coronavirus, and while there are found to have it.
At UT Medical Center, most COVID-19 tests are ordered due to clinical suspicions of a person having the coronavirus. Since tests are given on that basis, he said the hospital does not have a high incidental rate.
"The significant majority of our patients in the hospital with COVID-19 are sick because of COVID-19," he said during the update.
Incidental cases can also still impact the healthcare system, at a time when Shamiyeh said staff members are retiring earlier than expected and many members of the clinical staff are stepping down. He also said more staff members are getting sick too, making it harder to treat people without resources like the National Guard to help out.
"The healthcare delivery system is stressed regardless of incidental cases, and will likely worsen in the coming weeks," he said.
He said it is not less feasible to create and staff "surge" areas in the hospital. In the past, these were used to manage influxes of patients and involved preparing extra areas and beds for patient care.
The peak of hospitalizations during this surge is expected to be in late January, he said. However, he also said that there will be regional differences.
Finally, he also discussed a new kind of preventive COVID-19 treatment available in limited supply at UT Medical Center. It is called EVUSHELD and is administered through an injection.
It is available to people who are not infected with COVID-19, who may be moderate or severe immunocompromised and who may not create an adequate immune response to the vaccine. It is also available for anyone who could have a severe reaction or allergy to the vaccine.
Shamiyeh said people should reach out to their providers if they think they qualify for an EVUSHELD injection.
"What I portray here today is a worsening situation related to the Omicron variant and we know, we all sense, how quickly Omiron is spreading," he said. "So, we're going to be watching this situation real closely."
He ended the update by urging people to continue wearing masks and get a vaccine. He said breakthrough cases are not failures of the vaccine, since they still prevent death and serious illness.