JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The News Channel 11 viewing area experienced higher per capita COVID-19 death rates during earlier surges of the pandemic — and as deaths from the delta variant rose in September 2021, the story was much the same.
A data analysis showed that reported deaths in Northeast Tennessee nearly doubled from August to September. Last month’s 177 total deaths was exceeded only by the totals in December and January, at the height of the winter surge.
And like during the winter, Northeast Tennesseans and Southwest Virginians died at higher rates than what their states experienced as a whole. The gap was particularly striking in Southwest Virginia.
Lori Looney oversees the nursing staff at the Norton Community Hospital ICU in Norton, Va. It didn’t have a COVID unit during the winter surge, but has now its ICU COVID beds “are staying full,” she said.
As the surge drags on in the hospital, Looney said the severity of peoples’ illness is emotionally draining for the staff.
“It’s very hard emotionally, just because you spend so much time with these patients and you build relationships with their families,” Looney said. “So that’s very difficult when you lose a patient or when you see a patient not progressing like you would like for them to.”
In Northeast Tennessee, September’s full-month rate of deaths per 100,000 population was 35.0. That was 43% higher than Tennessee’s (24.4 per 100,000) and double the United States’ rate of 17.5.
According to a New York Times database, a reported 57,469 Americans lost their lives to COVID in September. The total for Tennessee was 1,664.
The closest rate to that experienced in Northeast Tennessee came in the nine counties and two cities of Southwest Virginia that fall within News Channel 11’s viewing area.
There, 85 deaths equated to a rate of 29.4 deaths per 100,000 population. Not only was that higher than Tennessee’s rate and 68% higher than the national rate, it was nearly three times Virginia’s overall rate.
Virginia reported a total of 926 COVID deaths, which worked out to a rate of 10.8 per 100,000 population.
Put another way, though Southwest Virginia’s 289,462 people account for only 3.4% of Virginia’s total population, the region accounted for 9.2% of the state’s September COVID deaths.