NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Northeast Tennessee’s COVID-19 “community spread rate” reached near-record levels through Saturday, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) reported in its first COVID-19 data update in a week.

TDH has begun releasing data Wednesdays only and that data is current only through the previous Saturday. Wednesday’s release also excluded updated data in several Excel formats that News Channel 11 has used to keep viewers and readers informed of granular trends at the regional and local levels.

The seven-county region had reached a rolling seven-day average of 924 new cases per 100,000 population. That’s an increase of 86% in one week and follows an increase of 55% the previous week — clear signs the Omicron variant that hit the Nashville and Memphis metros earlier has arrived in the Northeast part of the state.

In fact, the statewide COVID case rate increased by 44% statewide the week to Jan. 8 after rising 136% the previous week.

Northeast Tennessee new case rates have begun to increase faster than statewide rates, though they remain lower than the state average.

Regionally, the more urban counties have the highest current spread rates, with Sullivan County at 1,046 and Washington County at 1,033.

TDH reported 41 new COVID deaths in Northeast Tennessee in the seven days to Jan. 8. That’s a seven-day average of 8.1 new deaths per 100,000 and is more than double the statewide rate of 3.1 for the same period.

Northeast Tennessee’s recent COVID death rate is more than double the statewide figure.

The test positivity rate shot up in Northeast Tennessee counties late last week, also following a pattern that appeared first in more urban counties and in middle and west Tennessee. Tennessee’s two largest counties, Sullivan and Washington, had seven-day test positivity rates of 31.8% and 32.3% respectively as of Saturday.

Those were up from 27.0% and 24.2% just five days earlier.

As of Jan. 8, other positivity rates included 32% in Carter County, 28% in Greene County, 26.3% in Unicoi County, 25% in Hawkins County and 21.3% in Johnson County.

The overall regional rate is above the previous seven-day record of 28.1% set on Jan. 5, 2021 at the height of the Alpha variant surge.

County numbers

Sullivan County posted by far the most new reported deaths from Jan. 2-8. Deaths are a lagging indicator and often have occurred days or even weeks before they’re posted.

Sullivan had a total of 15 new deaths and is now at 560 total COVID deaths.

Washington County had five new deaths to reach 405 total COVID deaths.

Greene County had six new deaths to reach a total of 295 total COVID deaths.

Hawkins County had five new deaths to reach 243 total COVID deaths, while Carter County had four to reach a total of 272.

Johnson County’s four new deaths put it at 68 total deaths and Unicoi’s two new deaths put it at 81.

Northeast Tennessee has now recorded 1,924 total COVID deaths.

In addition to new case rates above 1,000 for Washington and Sullivan counties, other county rates through Jan. 8 were: Greene, 880; Carter, 780; Hawkins, 758; Unicoi, 705; and Johnson, 399.

Expect further increases

While data reported to CDC is three days ahead of these numbers, local data won’t be released again for another week. If the region continues its pattern, its case rate is almost certain to rise fairly sharply again over the week that we’re in the middle of.