JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Ballad Health hospitals roughly doubled during July and the month saw the highest COVID death count in Northeast Tennessee since March.

The data from Ballad and the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) show the virus continues to have at least some severe impacts more than two years after the pandemic began.

TDH data reveal that at least 26 Northeast Tennesseans died from COVID in July, more than double the 11 that died of the virus in June and the highest monthly count since March, when 80 deaths were reported. The number is current through Aug. 6, and so more July deaths could potentially be added as death certificates are recorded by the state.

COVID deaths climbed to their highest level since March last month in Northeast Tennessee. (WJHL photo)

Sullivan County alone recorded 13 deaths in July after totaling just three each in June and May and six in April, giving it more deaths in July than the previous three months combined. The total of COVID deaths reported for Sullivan, the region’s most populous county, is now 745.

The deaths came as official TDH COVID case rates and test positivity percentages climbed sharply as well. In the four weeks from July 9 to Aug. 6, recorded case rates rose by more than 50% in four of the region’s seven counties and doubled in Hawkins and Greene counties.

Those counties currently have the state’s third and fourth-highest seven-day case rates per 100,000, at 462 and 433. Sullivan’s rate is ninth-highest of the state’s 95 counties, with Carter and Washington ranking 11th and 12th.

The percentage of tests that are positive has risen by about a third over the past month as the BA5 variant, the most contagious yet, has taken over in the region. Rates are now near their highs set in the Omicron wave, with seven-day percentages above 40% in Washington and Hawkins counties and above 37% in Sullivan, Carter and Unicoi counties.

With many people testing at home or not testing at all, gleaning much of use from case and testing data is difficult. However, just as the death numbers rose in July, so did hospitalizations, COVID patients in intensive care and COVID patients on ventilators.

The number of inpatients with COVID at Ballad Health facilities doubled from the beginning of July to the beginning of August. (WJHL photo)

Data provided by Ballad show the system had 69 COVID inpatients on July 1. That number steadily increased, with a few small ups and downs, throughout the month to reach 140 Aug. 1, slightly more than double the rate at the beginning of the month.

The number of people in ICU and needing ventilators has also increased. ICU numbers averaged 19 in the two and a half weeks from July 24 through Aug. 8. They averaged nine the previous two-and-a-half week period from July 7-23. The number on ventilators averaged 7.5 from July 24 through Aug. 8 compared to 3.8 July 7-23.