NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — State health officials are calling on Tennesseans to follow social distancing guidelines, as hospitals reach a critical capacity point.
In a virtual press conference, Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey referenced the CDC data showing Tennessee had more new COVID cases by population last week than any other state. Piercey confirmed Tennessee's infections are over 40% higher than the national average and the active case count grew by more than two-thirds last week.
"The latest numbers we've been dealing with are very dramatic and almost certainly due to what we call the Thanksgiving surge," Piercey said.
She attributes much of that spread to asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Piercey called on residents to not gather outside their households and to wear masks.
"People think just having a few friends over if they're feeling well is okay. That is a dangerous mentality and has resulted in the Thanksgiving surge....This has really pushed Tennessee hospitals past their limit."
Sunday's COVID-19 report showed 2,789 non-ICU hospital patients with confirmed cases of the virus. Statewide there are over non-COVID 8,400 non-ICU hospital patients.
There are over 740 ICU patients with COVID statewide, along with over 1,500 ICU patients with other illnesses.
In terms of new cases, December is already Tennessee's worst month of the pandemic. Just last week, the state reported 50,277 new cases. Piercey said a spike in cases usually shows a resulting spike in hospitalizations about two weeks later.
She cited staffing shortages as the primary concern for hospitals, rather than physical space. The state has already made various executive orders to bring in more health-care workers, including sending National Guard members to hospitals.
"We have turned over every stone to try to find ways to help hospitals in this crunch. But the serious nature of this is we're running out of options."
Piercey said she's not aware of any hospital with a completely full ICU, though some have stopped taking patient transfers.
"This isn't just about COVID, this is about having access to lifesaving care....It is going to require Tennesseans change their interpersonal behavior over the next couple weeks. If we have another surge after Christmas or New Year like we did over Thanksgiving, it will completely break our hospitals."
Governor Bill Lee gave a statewide address Sunday night, asking Tennesseans to wear masks and avoid gatherings with anyone other than their immediate household in hopes of avoiding another surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.