NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The uptick in coronavirus cases is now beginning to be felt in Tennessee's hospitals.
Just in the last month, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has more than doubled. In fact, more people are in the hospital today in Tennessee with the virus than at any other point in the pandemic.
Now, one Middle Tennessee hospital is having to divert patients to Nashville.
"This is probably the most dangerous moment that we’ve had in COVID-19 – and that’s because there are more cases in the community than we’ve had at any point and there’s more disregard for the virus than there has been at any point," said Dr. Matt King, an ICU doctor at Sumner Regional Medical Center in Gallatin.
King has been on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19, first treating patients at Sumner Regional who were evacuated from a Gallatin nursing home, then spending a few days in New York helping out there, even contracting the virus himself.
A month ago, King says, Sumner Regional was down to one COVID patient.
"Really in the last week we’ve seen a huge change," King told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"We’re having three or four hospitalizations a day sometimes. Our hospital has been at capacity so we are having to transfer people to Nashville for care which is not something we’ve had to do at any point until last weekend."
According to statistics collected by the Tennessee Department of Health, there were 117 people hospitalized statewide with confirmed cases of COVID-19 on April 1st.
Between May 1st and June 1st, the numbers hovered right around 300.
Then, that number more than doubled to 632 in the hospital by July 1st -- and there were another 323 suspected cases awaiting test results.
"My greatest fear is that this increase is going to continue and hospitals are going to reach capacity, and we are going to have a big problem at that point," King said.
That's exactly what is happening right now in Texas, and Florida hospitals are also feeling the strain.
Among the indicators being watched here in Tennessee, the number of active COVID-19 cases more than doubled between April 1st and May 1st.
It almost leveled off for the next month, but shot up dramatically again throughout June.
As of today, more than 17,000 (almost 18,000) Tennesseans are considered to be in the active stages of the disease.
"And now we are just seeing them from all throughout the community," King said.
"There is no real pattern to it. It’s people who got it from family members who brought it home from work. It’s people who got it from church retreats. It’s people that got it at family reunions and people who have no idea where they got it."
And the more the virus spreads, the more people who are put at risk.
The ICU doctor said one patient stands out in his mind.
"It was a really sad case," King said.
"She had not left the house since March because she was trying to protect herself, but had a family member who needed to go to work and unfortunately contracted the illness and brought it home and she didn’t survive it."
As to the comparison to what King saw in New York, NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "We hear from a lot of people saying, don’t compare us to New York. We’re not New York. What is your answer to that?"
"My answer," King said, "is we are not New York, but we could be – and that’s what’s terrifying."
According to the state's tracking, about 20 percent of the staffed hospital beds in Tennessee are still available, as well as 20 percent of the ICU beds, although that's down from 25 percent in the last few days.
Still, the Tennessee Hospital Association says, overall, the hospitals are in reasonably good shape for now.
"So while we have no immediate concerns about hospital capacity, we do believe that it is absolutely critical that Tennesseans take the recommended precautions to reduce the spread of this virus, including wearing masks when in public places, practicing social distancing and frequent handwashing," THA said in an email.
"We also think it is critical to remind Tennesseans not to delay getting needed medical care. Healthcare providers across the state are reporting seeing patients with serious health problems that are the result of waiting too long to seek care. Hospitals are open and safe and ready to care for patients and communities."