Tennessee COVID hospitalizations continue to grow amid hospital staffing concerns

TDH covid vaccine sign
Posted at 10:38 AM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 19:27:37-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee Department of Health provided an update Monday as COVID hospitalizations across the state continue to rise.

Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said many factors, including staffing issues, have led to hospital capacity concerns.

Piercey said one factor now is that hospitals were already full prior to the July surge. She said many pediatric hospitalizations are being driven by other respiratory issues, such as RSV, and although COVID cases are going up, Piercey said it’s not necessarily what’s driving those pediatric numbers.

However, she said adult COVID hospitalizations are up “quite a bit,” and there are capacity concerns not only for COVID patients, but also those with other medical needs, such as heart attack and stroke patients.

Piercey said staffing concerns are even worse now because nurses and staff are getting sick, and many have left the workforce in the last year.

“When you have kind of an already full hospital with staffing and worsening staffing concerns on top of that, when you put extra COVID patients on top of that, that really tips the scales in a lot of situations," she said.

Statewide, there are currently 2,200 hospitalized with COVID. Piercey said almost all of them are adults. Over the weekend, 50 children were hospitalized statewide, with the latest numbers showing it’s down to 45.

In the first 15 days of August, there’s been 1,023 hospitalizations – that’s higher than any other month total of the pandemic.

She said the state’s ICU numbers are “starting to climb very rapidly.” At last count, there were 662 Tennesseans in ICUs across the state, which is about the same peak as last winter. A little more than 40% of all ICU beds in the state are filled with COVID patients.

“The major part of hospital capacity is staffing and staffing is in demand all over the nation, specifically in the South, and so workforce that we’ve had have either left the workforce altogether or some of our healthcare workforce is going to these agencies where they’re being pulled to other hospitals. Some in the state, some not in the state," Piercey said.

She said the state has reinstated Executive Order 83, which eases several regulations and/or restrictions on hospitals and medical professionals, in order to make it easier for them to treat COVID patients. Starting today, they're using the National Guard to help supplement staffing in hospitals.

"So when we have personnel in our military who can do medical procedures or have medical training and can backfill in hospitals, that will help augment the staff that is already there," she added.

The vast majority of COVID hospitalizations continue to be among the unvaccinated. Piercey said the unvaccinated accounted for 88% of hospitalizations and 94% of deaths from May through July.

“The message hasn’t changed. Vaccination is still the single best tool we have to prevent against serious disease and death,” Piercey said.

Watch the full TDH update below: