Delta blues: Northeast Tennessee COVID death rate nearly double the state’s since August

Local Coronavirus Coverage

COVID deaths rates per 100,000 population during the delta surge are much higher in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia than in their respective states and the nation.

Southwest Virginia’s rate 2.4X state figure

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – COVID-19’s delta variant is killing Northeast Tennesseans and Southwest Virginians at much higher per capita rates than the toll in their respective states.

The region also has a higher rate of COVID deaths per 100,000 population over the duration of the pandemic. And several counties on each side of the state line in News Channel 11’s viewing area have death rates ranking among the highest in their respective states.

The gap between the nine Virginia and seven Northeast Tennessee counties and their respective states is even wider in the first post-vaccination surge, though.

Low vaccinations, high deaths

Since Aug. 1, Northeast Tennessee’s COVID deaths per 100,000 population is nearly double Tennessee’s — 93 in the region, 49 statewide.

The region has reported a total of 471 deaths during the period spanning less than three months, bringing the pandemic total to 1,469. In the three months from May through July, Northeast Tennessee recorded just 60 deaths.

COVID deaths rates per 100,000 population during the delta surge are much higher in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia than in their respective states and the nation.

The delta surge hit Southwest Virginia slightly later than Northeast Tennessee and deaths per 100,000 there are lower — but still higher than Tennessee as a whole and much higher than Virginia.

The mostly rural region has logged a rate of 61 deaths per 100,000 since Aug. 1, with a total of 175 deaths. That’s almost two-and-a-half times higher than Virginia’s rate of 25 deaths per 100,000 during the period.

Nationally, a total of 116,693 people have died of COVID since Aug. 1, a rate of 36 per 100,000.

While the region’s death rates are high, its COVID vaccination rates are lower than state and national averages — on par with many rural areas of America.

As of Thursday, 57.7% of all Americans were fully vaccinated against COVID. The figure was even higher in Virginia at 62.2%.

Tennessee’s statewide total of 48.0% ranks it 42nd among the 50 states (Virginia ranks 13th).

Northeast Tennessee’s rate of 45.9% is just a couple percentage points lower than the Volunteer State’s rate. Southwest Virginia, though, has fully vaccinated just 43.3% of residents — barely above two-thirds of the state rate.

Deaths through the pandemic: Started late, caught up, moved ahead

The Appalachian Highlands avoided COVID’s worst effects in the early part of the pandemic.

On Sept. 15, 2020, Tennessee’s statewide deaths per 100,000 total was 31. Northeast Tennessee’s was 26.1.

The region caught up to the state at the beginning of November, and by the end of January, deaths per 100,000 totaled 173.2 in Northeast Tennessee — 23% higher than the 141.2 statewide.

That percentage gap fell slightly between February and August. At the end of July, the region’s rate had increased to 217.2. That was 16% higher than the state’s rate of 186.5.

But delta has widened that gap again. By Oct. 21, Northeast Tennessee had reached a rate of 290.5 COVID deaths per 100,000, 23% higher than Tennessee’s 235.8.

The U.S. average over the course of the pandemic has reached 219 deaths per 100,000. Since the pandemic began, 731,931 Americans have died of COVID.

The totals are 16,104 in Tennessee, 13,668 in Virginia and 823 in Southwest Virginia.

Southwest Virginia followed a similar pattern, though Virginia’s statewide death numbers per 100,000 are significantly lower than Tennessee’s.

The nine-county region, which has logged a higher death rate than Northeast Tennessee over the past couple of weeks, has a whole pandemic death rate of 284 per 100,000.

That’s nearly equal to Northeast Tennessee’s and a full 78% higher than Virginia’s rate of 160, which is 38th-highest among the 50 states. Tennessee’s rate ranks 22nd.

Northeast Tennessee’s rate is higher than that of all but four states — Mississippi (335), Alabama (313), New Jersey (313) and Louisiana (310).

Carter, Greene, Smyth among worst-hit counties

Several individual counties have rates ranking them near the top in their states.

In Virginia, Smyth County’s rate of 377.4 deaths per 100,000 ranks third-highest among 95 counties. Scott County ranks seventh at 352.9 and Wise County ninth at 336.7 deaths per 100,000.

In Tennessee, Carter County’s rate of 377.7 is the highest among the state’s 18 counties with populations between 50,000 and 100,000, and 13th-highest overall. Greene County has the third-highest rate among counties in that population grouping with 347.5 deaths per 100,000.

Among the state’s counties with 13 counties with populations over 100,000, Sullivan County has the highest rate at 261.5 and Washington the second-highest rate at 248.9.

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