Tenn. Health Commissioner: State headed in ‘wrong direction’ with rising COVID cases, hospitalizations

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(WJHL) – Tennessee’s top health official, Dr. Lisa Piercey, said Monday in a media briefing she is concerned the state is backsliding when it comes to COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“Our level of hospitalizations is now at about the level we were in February. That is clearly the wrong direction,” the Tennessee Health Commissioner told reporters.

Piercey says statewide, over 1,000 Tennesseans are hospitalized Monday; the vast majority are unvaccinated, making up 93% of cases. Across Tennessee, the COVID-19 Delta variant is now responsible for around 80% of infections.

“We have had a very sharp uptick in cases over the last several week. We have had a 204% increase in the last week. We are still in that upward trajectory and right now there are no signs of that slowing,” said Piercey.

Piercey coupled good news with the concerning news. Yes, COVID-19 cases are on the rise but so are vaccinations. She reported that recent data shows all but one Tennessee county is seeing its vaccine uptake increasing week over week.

“That means some Tennesseans, a lot of Tennesseans, who have been hesitant are saying, you know what, I am ready,” said Piercey.

When it comes to back-to-school concerns, Piercey said Tennessee state officials decided it best to leave all decisions on masking and precautions to be left to school districts.

“That needs to be decided in the context that vaccine is available for children down to age 12. Vaccine is very effective in preventing that. Likewise, masks do protect unvaccinated children,” said Piercey.

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are both recommending mask-wearing for children in schools.

Piercey added widespread mandating for any COVID-19 precaution is no longer effective.

“I think the day of government mandates is over. You’re seeing that nationally, whether at the state level, county level, or federal level. There is not an appetite for that, people are not paying attention to that anymore,” said Piercey.

Tennessee is seeing a small number of “breakthrough cases” which represents a person who tests positive for COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. However, that number only makes up less than 0.2 percent of current cases.

“Breakthrough infections are rare and when they do happen they are generally not serious and rather mild,” said Piercey. “I don’t want you to get in the habit of thinking that the vaccine doesn’t matter or you are likely to get a breakthrough infection, because you are very likely to not do that.”

Of around 2 million people vaccinated in Tennessee to date, only about 1,600 breakthrough cases have been reported; around 80 percent of the breakthrough cases are in people over the age of 65.

Tennessee’s seven-day average for new cases is 1,871. The state positivity rate is over 13 percent.

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