COVID-19 one year later: How the pandemic has impacted Northeast Tennessee

Local Coronavirus Coverage

TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – It’s the milestone nobody asked for: one year since the first COVID-19 case in Tennessee was announced by health officials.

The first case was confirmed on March 5th in Williamson County, but five days later on March 10th, the virus hit closer to home with the first case confirmed in Sullivan County.

In just one year, as of Friday morning, the state of Tennessee has recorded 779,449 total cases of COVID-19 and 11,501 deaths. In the Northeast Tennessee region, new milestones in terms of cases and deaths could soon be reached. As of Friday morning, the region stood at 988 deaths and 49,804 cases.

It’s been a difficult year for healthcare workers across the board as they worked to battle the virus on the front lines and continue to do so to this day.

“It’s been initially a shock, and then a lot of anxiety for all of us because we don’t who’s going to get it, who’s not going to get it, what’s going to happen,” said Dr. Cynthia Partain, a physician with Holston Medical Group.

She said the pandemic has been hard on everyone, but especially health care workers having to deal with a number of deaths on a daily basis. However, she said there is hope, and health officials are here for the community for whatever happens with the virus in the months to follow.

Looking at physical numbers per county, Sullivan County leads the way in both case count and deaths with a total of 14,431 cases reported in the past year alongside 274 total deaths.

Washington County isn’t far behind with 12,818 total cases and 234 total deaths. While Sullivan and Washington counties both show the highest numbers locally, the impact of this pandemic is really shown by looking at cases and deaths based on population.

Across the state, 11.4% of people have contracted COVID but regionally, that figure is only 9.9%.

But when it comes to the most severe impacts of COVID — hospitalizations and deaths — the data paint a different picture.

Statewide just under one and a half percent of people who’ve contracted the virus have died. Regionally, that figure is just under 2 percent — a mortality rate that is a third higher here locally than in the state.

As Northeast Tennessee nears the milestone of 1,000 deaths since the pandemic began, it’s important to note that a higher percentage of people statewide have gotten the virus than in our region, but a higher percentage here locally has died from the virus.

That’s a direct consequence of those higher mortality rates. The region also has seen a higher hospitalization rate for people with COVID than the state as a whole — 3.3 percent compared to 2.4 percent statewide.

Dr. Randy Wykoff, the Dean of ETSU’s college of public health told News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield that it’s important to view cases, and especially deaths from a ‘per capita’ perspective.

“If you don’t look at it that way, the only places that get attention are the more populated areas so your big cities are always going to have more deaths in total number than a smaller city or a rural area but what you really want to know is for every 100,000 people, how many of them are dying,” said Dr. Wykoff.

He said for a long time, Tennessee tracked behind the nation in terms of the death rate, but that quickly changed later in the year.

“In the fall, October, and November, the numbers really started to go up. So we saw an increase in cases, increase in hospitalizations, and increases in deaths,” said Dr. Wykoff.

There is however a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the end to the pandemic. With the rollout of now three FDA vaccines approved for Emergency Use Authorization, case counts are declining for the most part.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health’s vaccine tracker, just over 13% of Tennesseans have recieved at least one dose of the vaccine.

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