NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In the coming days, the Tennessee Department of Health will begin publishing the number of available pediatric hospital beds as the state sees an increase of COVID cases among children.
Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey announced the update Friday during a briefing with Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.
Piercey said pediatric cases are "quickly on the rise," nearly doubling from the week of July 18 to July 25. She said for the week of July 18, the state reported 1,800 cases in children. The next week, that jumped to 3,200 cases.
Piercey said one of the reasons that hospitalizations are up among kids is that they're seeing cases of respiratory illness that are typically more prevalent during the winter months. Because there wasn't a surge of illnesses such as RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), we're seeing it in kids now.
She said hospitals started filling up in early July due to respiratory illnesses, adding that “when you add COVID hospitalizations on top of that, that’s just enough to tip the scales sometimes.”
Piercey said the department will now populate a dashboard showing pediatric hospital availability, in addition to pediatric cases and hospitalizations. She said the department is also changing some of the data on its child dashboard, which breaks down cases among children ages 0-18. They will also begin adding that information on a weekly, instead of monthly, basis.
Piercey said they’re also adding additional information on pediatric hospitalizations, as well as information on MIS-C – the inflammatory condition that children sometimes get after having a COVID infection.
She said while the rising number of pediatric cases is concerning, it’s not surprising given what Tennessee's peer states are seeing.
Piercey said a lot of the state’s pediatric cases are in West Tennessee because of its proximity to Missouri and Arkansas. “But as we’ve seen throughout, this is now our fourth surge, this is probably going to be across the state in the next few weeks," she said.
However, Piercey said she did have some encouraging news: The number of people having received their first and second dose of the vaccine is up 57% in the last three weeks. Additionally, she said Tennessee had a 90% increase of first doses administered over the last two weeks.
She said the unvaccinated still account for more than 90% of hospitalizations and 95% of deaths across the state.
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn also said they're going to ask school districts to provide information as they did last year. She said guidance will be going out to districts early next week regarding what information should be provided to parents and the department.
Schwinn did not elaborate on what that guidance would entail but said the department's goal is to have a "safe, in-person school year." She said the department would have a call with superintendents on Monday.
Prior to today, Piercey gave her most recent COVID update on Monday, saying the rate of Tennesseans getting vaccinated has increased over the last week amid this new surge of cases.
As of August 1, 44.6% of Tennesseans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 39.3% are fully vaccinated. The state remains one of the lowest in the country in vaccinations, with the nationwide average sitting at 49.7% fully vaccinated and 57.8% receiving at least one dose.
Also, on Monday, Tennessee education officials released the 2020-21 Spring TCAP state-level results, which show declines across all subjects and grades.
That same day, Governor Bill Lee held a news conference to highlight the effect of the pandemic on student achievement. He said the pandemic-related disruptions to education led to declines.
Schwinn added that while the declines were serious, she is confident districts have the tools to help students meet grade-level expectations in the upcoming school year.