East TN health leaders say 2021 COVID surge is worse than 2020, pleads for people to get vaccinated


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Top doctors from several hospitals in the region spoke Wednesday on how they’re handling the latest surge of COVID-19. Five East Tennessee hospital systems hosted a virtual briefing to provide an update on where they and their patients stand.

Doctors outlined a strained and sometimes critical situation in local hospitals and emergency rooms — they said this summer surge is worse than the one from the fall and winter of 2020.

“This changes throughout the day, but we do have a capacity call of the health system three times a week on Zoom, and it’s not uncommon that at that moment at 1 p.m. that we don’t have ICU beds in the community,” University of Tennessee Medical Center Senior Vice President Dr. James Shamiyeh said.

Shamiyeh says intensive care unit bed capacity changes minute-to-minute but at times, there are none. He’s also compared the current surge to the one we went through in December and early January.

“We have 61 more COVID patients in the hospital than we did in the winter peak,” he said. “We have 31 more patients in the ICU and very notably, we have collectively 33 more patients on the ventilator than we did during the winter peak. So, this, for us, does look distinctly different.”

Doctors on the call also highlighted and pleaded with the community for the best way out of this grim situation.

“Please consider the vaccine. Please look at the science. The truth is the vaccine is a very safe vaccine by any standard,” Dr. Harold Neramore said. “The truth is, if you take the vaccine and are fully immunized, you very likely won’t come to the hospital, and the probability you’re going to die is almost nonexistent. Please make that choice, that will help our health care system. That will help our staff.”

When it comes to emergency rooms, one doctor said they’re seeing wait times as long as they’ve ever been. The health leaders say you can help by avoiding the ER unless you have severe symptoms and being patient with the staff.

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