Northeast Tennessee COVID test positivity rate jumps 45 percent

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Weekly cases triple the number from two weeks ago

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The percentage of Northeast Tennesseans testing positive for COVID reached its highest seven-day average since mid-May — 6.8 percent — at the beginning of this week.

Cases are also climbing, though they remain at historically low rates. Seven-day community spread is less than half its low point reached in early March prior to a spring wave of increasing cases — but triple the amount of two weeks ago.

“Our cases in Sullivan County are trending up, but bear in mind they’re very low numbers at this point,” Sullivan County Regional Health Department Director Dr. Gary Mayes told News Channel 11 Monday.

Data from the Tennessee Department of Health show COVID-19 test positivity rates have increased by more than two-and-a-half times the past two weeks.

“So any change in case numbers at this low level is going to change percentages,” Mayes said.

The test positivity rate has increased by more than two and a half times from its low point the week ending July 4, when it was 2.5 percent. While it’s still quite a bit lower than rates seen during the last wave of increasing cases in March and April, it has created some concern among health officials.

But Mayes said even at the low numbers, the trend is concerning.

“We’ve been around 2 to 3 percent positivity and looking at the current data, we are at 9.6,” Mayes said of Sullivan County’s positivity rates. Data that arrived Monday night showed Sullivan County’s seven-day test positivity rate had climbed to 10.6 percent — up 77 percent from a week earlier.

Health experts have said during the entire pandemic that positivity rates below 5 percent are desired. Anything above that level has sometimes been recommended as warranting some restrictions in the community.

COVID cases have tripled the past two weeks but remain well below rates from rate spring.

Seven-day regionwide case numbers, meanwhile, rose to 224 for the week ending Sunday, an increase of 68 percent from the prior week. The percentage increase was greater in Sullivan County, where cases more than doubled from 38 to 88.

“Again, that is low case numbers relative to where we’ve been such as November and December of last year,” Mayes said. “But still nonetheless, we’ve seen this play out before where we start trending up. We hope it doesn’t get anything like we experienced in November and December, and we just encourage everyone to please get vaccinated.”

The last time weekly case numbers were higher than this week was May 30, when they were at 242. But they were far higher in the preceding weeks after the spring wave, averaging around 900 a week for most of April.

And even at their low point coming off the terrible winter surge in cases, the lowest weekly total was 516 the week ending March 5.

Positivity rates are closer to their lowest levels of the late winter, though. The regional rate of 7.7 percent the week ending March 5 wasn’t far above the current rate of 6.8%.

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