Smyth, Greene counties have highest case rates in Virginia, Tennessee
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – New COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases are declining regionally, but data from the Tennessee and Virginia departments of health support the downside of Ballad Health officials’ statements Wednesday: the region’s numbers are worse than statewide figures.
For the past couple weeks, the nine counties in News Channel 11’s Southwest Virginia viewing area have had higher new case and death rates than the seven Northeast Tennessee counties.
That remained true Wednesday, with Southwest Virginia posting 379 new cases per 100,000 population over the past week. Not only is that 32% higher than Northeast Tennessee’s rate, but it’s also more than double Virginia’s statewide rate of 182.
While Northeast Tennessee reached a higher peak than Southwest Virginia — it was at 839 new weekly cases per 100,000 Sept. 16 to Southwest Virginia’s 660 — it has declined much more quickly since.
Northeast Tennessee’s rate had dropped to 565 by Sept. 20, while Southwest Virginia’s was still above 600.
Northeast Tennessee’s current case rate is closer to Tennessee’s statewide rate, just more than 20% higher at 288 to 216.
Greene County currently has the highest seven-day case rate among Tennessee’s 95 counties, at 517.
Smyth County owns that unfortunate distinction among Virginia’s 95 counties with a current rate of 628 new weekly cases per 100,000. It’s been among the top 100 of the U.S.’s 3,000-plus counties for over a week now in a New York Times database.
The slower case decline in Southwest Virginia has impacted the region’s population-adjusted death totals as well. It’s averaging slightly more deaths per 100,000 population, 8.6, than Northeast Tennessee’s 8.1 over the past week.
Both figures are around double Tennessee’s rate of 4.3 and about 2.5 times Virginia’s rate of 3.4.
Northeast Tennessee’s death rate was slightly higher than Southwest Virginia’s in September. But since Oct. 1, the rate is 20.0 in Southwest Virginia and 13.8 in Northeast Tennessee.
Northeast Tennessee is also posting significantly higher test positivity percentages than Tennessee as a whole. While those have been trending downward, that decline hasn’t been as fast as Tennessee’s overall.
Wednesday, the region’s test one-week positivity rate — the percentage of total COVID tests that come back positive — was 17.9%. Tennessee’s was 10.7%.