Northeast Tenn. COVID-19 cases almost doubled since Memorial Day, hospitalization and death rates remain stable

Local Coronavirus Coverage

This chart shows the total number of COVID-19 cases in Tennessee (orange) and Virginia (blue) and shows when state leadership enacted different phases of reopening the economy.

TRI-CITIES (WJHL) – Over the weekend, state health departments in Tennessee and Virginia reported 66 new cases of COVID-19 from Friday through Monday.

Last weekend, health departments reported 17 new COVID-19 cases over the same time period. The weekend before, health departments reported seven new COVID-19 cases.

This graph shows reports of new COVID-19 cases in our region from the first reported case on March 10 to June 29.

Reopening the economy in a pandemic

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee began rebooting the state economy about two weeks before Gov. Ralph Northam gave the green light for businesses to begin reopening in Virginia.

On a national level, some public health experts argued that states began opening too soon. U.S. travelers are likely to be banned from Europe as countries reopen their borders due to the national flare of COVID-19.

Through our local lens, northeast Tennessee counties (Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties) have reliably reported more COVID-19 cases than counties in southwest Virginia (Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Wise and Washington counties).

Both northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia counties continue to report new cases of COVID-19. Since Memorial Day (May 25), COVID-19 cases increased in northeast Tennessee by 94.85, while cases in southwest Virginia increased by 44.2%.

Region-wide, cases increased by about 77%.

This chart shows the total number of COVID-19 cases in Tennessee (orange) and Virginia (blue) and shows when state leadership enacted different phases of reopening the economy.

Health officials on the state level ensure that the rise in cases is expected and point out that looking at total case numbers only paints part of the picture.

Increased cases meet stable death/ hospitalization rates

While the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise, the Tennesseee Department of Health hasn’t reported any new deaths in northeast Tennessee since May 12.

Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey noted in a press conference last week that while cases are increasing, hospitalization and death rates remain stable, which she said could indicate that younger people are contracting the novel coronavirus.

In our region, the most recent death was reported in Smyth County, Virginia last week. Tennessee doesn’t report hospitalization data, but the Virginia Department of Health reports hospitalizations by county. According to the VDH, the last hospitalization in southwest Virginia was reported last week in Smyth County. Before that, the last hospitalization in southwest Virginia was reported on June 1.

This chart shows the increase of COVID-19 testing in northeast Tennessee counties over time.

In northeast Tennessee, COVID-19 testing has maintained a steady increase over the past week. TDH reports an average of 261 daily tests in the past week for northeast Tennessee counties. The state reported 961 COVID-19 tests since Friday.

More tests, more cases

When President Donald Trump’s administration released guidelines to open state economies, one of the requirements for a state to begin a phased reopening plan was a “downward trajectory” of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a two-week period.

The more tests a state reports, the more positive cases are likely to show up. That’s why health officials say they look at the percent of positive results compared to the total number of tests reported.*

On a local level, the percent of COVID-19 tests that were positive stood at 8% on April 12, plummeting to under 2% in about a month.

That positivity rate continued decreasing through May and June to its lowest at 1.55% in mid-June. It began creeping back up after that, to the 1.9% it is today.

The percent of positive COVID-19 tests increased from 1.59% to 1.83% over the past 10 days.

*The Virginia Department of Health does not report the number of tests by county, so the data for southwest Virginian counties is unavailable for this analysis.

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