UPDATE: Region records 400-plus new COVID cases for first time Friday

Local Coronavirus Coverage

(WJHL)- Digital Reporter Jessica Fuller breaks down COVID-19 data every day on WJHL.com and social media.

This story has been updated October 23, 2020.

The Northeast Tennessee/Southwest Virginia region shattered its previous high of new COVID cases Friday, recording 415 over a 15-county area. The region of three quarters of a million people has averaged 39.25 new daily cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.

That population-adjusted rate is 50 percent higher than it was a week ago, when it stood at 26.56.

A surge in new cases that began in late September has resulted in numerous school schedule changes, outbreaks and — just Friday — an announcement by Ballad Health that 22 staff and six patients had tested positive in a cluster of cases.

The rate of Northeast Tennesseans testing positive for COVID-19 has more than doubled in the past month, according to News Channel 11 tracking of Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) data.

After recording a record 345 new cases Friday, new daily cases per 100,000 population — based on a 14-day rolling average — reached 37.77 in Northeast Tennessee’s seven counties. Its seven-day average is 46.53.

Positivity percentages remained high and climbing in the region. Sullivan County’s 17.1 percent rate over the past 14 days ranks 11th among Tennessee’s 95 counties. That rate was 20.85 percent Friday.

Southwest Virginia, meanwhile, saw 70 new cases. Its 14-day average of new daily cases is 57.29, putting its new daily cases per 100,000 rate at 23.02.

Both regions have higher seven-day new case per 100,000 averages than their states as a whole.

Tennessee’s rate is 30.86, compared to 46.53 for Northeast Tennessee. Virginia’s statewide rate is 12.0, compared to 24.45 for Southwest Virginia.

Including both states, the new daily cases per 100,000 reached another new high Friday: 32.91. That’s well above the 23.66 peak during a summer surge in cases that peaked Aug. 13. The rate for the entire region, which is home to 754,507 people, is more than double what it was Oct. 1.

Both regions are in a trend of accelerating hospitalizations. Ballad Health is near its highest number of hospitalized COVID patients yet. A total of 41 people were admitted to hospitals in Northeast Tennessee the past four days — just one off the previous four-day high set Aug. 3-6.

The regionwide total of 345 new cases was the fifth time in eight days the region has registered more than 300 new cases, but only the sixth time ever.

Northeast Tennessee

The biggest story of Thursday was again high hospitalizations as nine more people entered area hospitals with COVID. That brings the three-day total to 41.

Ballad Health reported a total of 29 patients were in ICU — up three from Thursday — and 10 were on ventilators.

Washington County recorded three COVID deaths and Unicoi County had one. Northeast Tennessee’s total deaths associated with the pandemic is now 212.

That figure is four times the tally just two months ago, on Aug. 18. It took the region more than five months to go from its first COVID death to its 100th (April 1 to Sept. 8). It took just 42 days to record another 100 deaths.

With 41 hospitalizations over three days, the region is nearing its biggest short-term spike, which occurred in early August. The seven-day average of daily hospitalizations rose to 9.14 Aug. 11. It was 7.71 Friday — up more than 75 percent in a week.

Sullivan County has led the region in both new cases per capita and positivity percentage. That didn’t change Friday as its 14-day average positivity rate rose to 17.12.

That ranks 11th out of the state’s 95 counties.

By Age Group*

TDH reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 in the 5-18 age group over on last Thursday, adding up to 64 cases reported in this demographic in the region so far last week.

By this time the previous week, TDH reported 39 new cases in this demographic.

The 14-day average of new cases in this age group hit an all-time high of about 14 on Thursday. Twelve of the 26 cases reported in this demographic are reported out of Greene County.

Washington County has reported near-daily increases in this demographic, coming to 314 as of Wednesday. Greene and Sullivan counties have also reported at least one new case per day for the past week.

So far, a total of 1,071 children have contracted COVID-19 in this age group over the course of the pandemic in the northeast Tennessee region.

By County:

  • Carter County: 132
  • Greene County: 195 (+12)
  • Hawkins County: 80
  • Johnson County: 97 (+4)
  • Sullivan County: 232 (+6)
  • Unicoi County: 17 (+3)
  • Washington County: 314 (+1)

*Age Group data is cumulative and does not reflect active cases.

Southwest Virginia

Some of Southwest Virginia’s most rural counties continued to help keep community spread rates near their highest levels yet on Friday.

On a second straight day with no new deaths and three hospitalizations reported, the 70 new cases kept the region’s 14-day average of new daily cases to an all-time high and a rate 81 percent higher than at the beginning of October.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) sent out a news release Friday referencing a surge in Lee, Scott and Wise counties, within the Lenowisco Health District. District Director Dr. Sue Cantrell implored residents of the rural counties to practice social distancing, use good hand hygiene and wear masks to try and reverse the trend.

“We can still gather together with friends and family, socialize, exercise, worship and celebrate the holidays, if we commit to doing so safely,” Cantrell said. “It’s simple and easy to protect yourself, your loved ones and everyone around you.”

Lee County’s rise is likely attributable to the resumption of an outbreak at Lee Health and Rehabilitation in Pennington Gap. It has resulted in 60 new cases the past two weeks — slightly more than half the total.

Although no outbreaks are currently reported in Russell County, long-term care testing data on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) website shows the county’s positivity rate for people tested at long-term care facilities rose dramatically in the Oct. 3-16 period compared to the previous two-week period.

During that time, positive tests went to 71 from 22 the previous period, and the rate went from 5.8 percent to 14.5 percent. Not all positive test results equal a new case, as some could be people already counted as cases and tested again.

Because of limitations with the data provided by the Virginia Department of Health, it’s not possible to report recoveries, active cases or the percent positivity rates in southwest Virginia counties.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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