KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Six East Tennessee regional hospitals have released a joint statement, pleading with the public to take precautions against COVID-19 as hospitalizations and cases are spiking, and staffing in their facilities has decreased.

Wednesday afternoon, Blount Memorial Hospital, Covenant Health, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Sweetwater Hospital Association, Tennova Healthcare and University of Tennessee Medical Center released a joint statement regarding the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic, and especially in the past months with the rise in cases and hospitalizations. This sharp rise, according to their statement, is due to the delta variant of COVID-19.

They say, “We have seen a sharp rise in delta variant-related infections, and community hospitalizations have exceeded the COVID-related census we witnessed in January 2021. We are all anxious to get past the coronavirus pandemic.”

With this, the hospitals are urging anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19. As across all their health systems, over 80% of those hospitalized due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated. They’re also asking for people that are hesitant about the vaccine to discuss concerns with their health care provider to help make an educated decision based on factual information.

Along with this significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, the hospitals are facing a shortage of health care workers. In the statement, the hospitals say, “Staffing is lower now than before the pandemic began, and several of our health systems have enlisted the help of the Tennessee National Guard to help alleviate this staffing crisis. Even with this assistance, as more people come to our hospitals, we still have fewer health care professionals to provide care.”

They add, “A significant amount of our hospitals’ current bed capacity is being used by COVID-19 patients. We all need to do our part to prevent the escalating spread of the virus to make sure local hospitals are here when you need us, regardless of the type of care you need. We know that anxieties and emotions can be high during hospital visits. We appreciate your patience and ask that you treat our health care heroes with the kindness and respect they deserve.”

As of Aug. 31, there are currently 99 (5%) available ICU beds, and 1,247 (11%) available floor beds.

They end their statement with a call to action for the public to help and do their part against the spread of COVID-19, “To make an immediate impact on slowing the spread of the virus and to reduce the burden on our health systems, we encourage mask-wearing and social distancing when in public. Again, we strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Now is the time to come together as a community to protect ourselves and one another. Our entire region has experienced suffering and loss, but the spirit of East Tennesseans is as strong as ever.”