NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As the state sees a new surge in COVID-19 cases, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey has resumed her weekly updates on the outbreak.
Watch her full update in the video player below:
Piercey said the rate of Tennesseans getting vaccinated for COVID-19 has increased over the last week amid this new surge of cases. The vaccine uptake statewide is up 22% from the week prior and 94 out of the state's 95 counties recorded an increase in new vaccinations.
The commissioner said many Tennesseans who have been hesitant to get vaccinated are now ready.
"If you’re on the fence at all. If you think, 'I might do it, I need to do it, I just haven’t done it yet,' I want you to reach out to that trusted voice, whether that’s your medical provider or your pastor, your friends and family. Talk to them, and I hope you will join the thousands of Tennesseans who have made the decision recently to get vaccinated, not only to protect themselves and their families but also the community," Piercey said.
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.
Less than 0.2% of fully vaccinated Tennesseans are testing positive for COVID-19. Piercey said the statewide rate of breakthrough cases is 0.18% and out of 2.7 million fully vaccinated Tennesseans, only 1,600 breakthrough cases have been recorded.
"Breakthrough infections are rare, and when they do happen they are generally not serious and rather mild," she said.
Of the fully vaccinated Tennesseans that are hospitalized for COVID-19, Piercey said 80% of these patients are over 65 years old.
"If you are immunocompromised, you have a weakened immune system and maybe you can’t mount a normal response for whatever reason, or if you are of advanced age, you may be at higher risk [of a breakthrough infection] and want to take other protections. But for the very vast majority of people, breakthrough infections are quite rare," Piercey said.
Surge in New Cases
In recent weeks, Tennessee has started to see a sharp uptick of new cases, the vast majority of which are among the unvaccinated. Piercey said more than 93% of all active cases, 95% of new deaths and 90% of current hospitalizations are unvaccinated individuals.
"Vaccination is the single best tool we have to prevent COVID-19, both in ourselves and in our communities," Piercey said.
Just in the last week, Tennessee saw a 204% increase in new cases.
"We are still in that upward trajectory and right now there are no signs of that slowing," Piercey said.
The seven-day average of daily new cases is 1,871 and the state is seeing a 13% positivity rate of COVID-19 tests. Piercey said similar to the rest of the United States, Tennessee's new cases are mostly the delta variant, at more than 80%.
"That started in Tennessee mostly in the Memphis and Shelby County market, mostly because of their proximity to Missouri and Arkansas. But now it is statewide and there is no area of the state that is immune to the delta variant," she said. "It’s everywhere, it’s all over the nation, it’s all over the state."
Cases in Nashville
Just like the rest of the state, cases are on the rise in Davidson County.
Mayor John Cooper said there have been 719 new cases reported since Friday and Metro Nashville has 2,426 active cases - the highest since February 16.
Active cases in the county are up 70% in the last week. Hospitalizations are also rising, with the number of patients doubling in the last two weeks.
Only 53.35% of Nashville residents have been vaccinated, and Cooper says the vaccine uptake has increased in recent weeks.
As new cases rise, so do hospitalizations. Tennessee is once again seeing more than 1,000 current COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide, which is similar to the level recorded in February.
While hospitals are starting to fill up again, Piercey said hospitals are now experiencing a different issue. Unlike in February, hospitals are not feeling the strain of being overrun with COVID-19 patients, they are now having significant workforce and staffing challenges.
Additionally, the state is seeing an unseasonable flair-up of respiratory syncytial virus and parainfluenza cases. These respiratory viruses are typically seen in the dead of winter and particularly affect children.
"We almost never see them in the summertime, but we believe that all of the precautions kept them from having to flair up in the wintertime. We didn’t see that typical winter surge last winter but we’re seeing it now," Piercey said.
Tennessee is seeing more children in the hospital with these viruses during the summer than ever before.
Long-Term Care Facilities
Piercey said cases are increases in nursing homes and long-term care facilities among mostly staff. The vaccination rate among staff typically mirrors that of the community they are in.
"At best, most nursing homes have around a 50% staff vaccination rate, sometimes a lot less, particularly in rural areas," Piercey said.
While not all long-term care facility residents and patients are vaccinated, all have been given the opportunity and the uptake rate is about 80% statewide.
School is also starting again for many across Tennessee.
Dr. Piercey used the opportunity to openly advertise vaccines for children as young as 12 are available.
It comes after a month of controversy surrounding the state's handling of marketing the vaccine towards teenagers. The stated halted its outreach to teens and received national backlash for the move.
The department said they were only pulling back to make sure vaccine material was targeted at parents, not kids.