NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — Tennessee is now number one for new COVID-19 cases per capita, a striking data point that surpasses numbers not even seen in during the highest points during the pandemic.
The number of new COVID-19 cases grow more every day, alarming state leaders, including Tennessee's top health official.
"Yesterday, we had 3,500 hospitalizations statewide, which exceeds our winter time peak at 3,300," said Lisa Piercey, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner.
That means Tennessee is now breaking coronavirus records set last year.
"Our ICU cases are now 20% higher than winter peak, and our ventilator use is 40% higher than our winter time peak," Piercey said.
The state is averaging 7,700 new cases a day and nearly 40% of those cases are kids, according to state data. During a press conference Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee iterated that masks work, urging parents to see them as an option when sending their children to school.
"Every parent has the ability to send their kid with a mask, they ought to consider that and I hope they do it," said Lee.
However, an executive order from Lee indicates that parents have the option to opt-out of any mask mandate imposed by schools.
"The law allows it, and we allow school districts to impose a mask requirement in their district but the law also allows a parent to have the ability to opt out of that mask requirement," Lee said.
The increase in cases are closing many schools and filling up hospitals. Several mid-state schools are closed Friday because of staffing related to the virus and the amount of students infected.
"We now have national guard deployed to 16 hospitals statewide, and a few days ago we released $10 million in funding to assist hospitals with staffing," Piercey said.
About 90% of COVID-19 patients in hospitals are not vaccinated, Piercey said, noting it wasn't too late to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.