Seven-day new case average more than doubled in past week — is up sevenfold in three weeks
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – COVID-19 case rates and test positivity percentages continue to climb steeply in Northeast Tennessee and seven-day case rates have now surpassed the CDC’s “high transmission” level.
After Wednesday’s report of 129 new cases across the seven-county viewing area, Northeast Tennessee is averaging 119.1 new cases weekly for every 100,000 residents.
One week ago, the total was 51.6 and it was just 17.0 on July 6. The rate is higher than it’s been since May 12, when Northeast Tennessee cases had begun declining from a short “surge.”
The weekly numbers currently sit at the same level they were on July 21 last year, when they were rising rapidly as well. They peaked Aug. 1, right before school started, at a weekly rate of 210.2 weekly cases per 100,000.
Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that even people vaccinated for COVID-19 wear masks indoors if they live in areas with “substantial” (50-99 weekly cases per 100,000) or “high” (100-plus) transmission.
Those levels are determined by a county’s seven-day community spread rate and by its test positivity rate. After the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) reported daily data Wednesday, all seven Northeast Tennessee counties were at least at the substantial level.
Washington, Sullivan, Hawkins and Greene counties were at the high level, with Carter County just below it at 97.5. Unicoi and Johnson counties, the region’s two smallest by population, were at 84.0 and 61.9 respectively in the population-weighted measure.
Ballad Health officials told News Channel 11 last week they didn’t think the region would “dodge a bullet” when it came to the increases other regions were already seeing from the onset of COVID’s delta variant.
“We think it’s coming,” CEO Alan Levine said July 22. “It’s here. It’s just, it’s – when you look at the patterns in Missouri, you look at the patterns in Florida, we’re following the exact same pattern.”
Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift likened the stage last week to the “first or second inning” of a softball game.
“In my opinion we’ve got a long way to go,” Swift said. “We know delta’s here. We’re starting to see that in symptom presentation, we’re starting to see that in the age of patients that are being affected, but I do not think we are anywhere near the peak of what delta could do to this region.”
The region’s test positivity rate nearly doubled over the past week as well and is at levels not seen since the winter surge.
The CDC considers 8 to 9.99 percent an indicator of substantial transmission with above 10 percent high transmission.
Regionwide test positivity was 14.7 percent using a seven-day rolling average. That’s up from 10.9 percent just two days earlier, 6.8 percent July 19 and just 2.5 percent July 5.
Sullivan County’s rate of 20.0 percent is the 11th-highest among Tennessee’s 95 counties. Washington County is at 13.5 percent. As of Wednesday only Greene (9.6 percent) and Unicoi (7.8 percent) were below the high transmission mark.
The spring surge started from a much higher baseline than the current one — 89.4 weekly cases per 100,000 on March 8. It peaked at a rate of 190 on April 12.