Knoxville area hospitals facing ICU capacity problems as COVID-19 continues to spread

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The state’s top doctor echoed the words of federal health officials Friday, calling COVID-19 in Tennessee “a pandemic among the unvaccinated.” Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey also reported unvaccinated people make up 97% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations and more than 98% of recent deaths.

Latest numbers from TDH show 12% of ICU beds are available statewide, which is 240 our of 2,039 total.
The Knox County Health Department tracks similar data, by compiling numbers from more than a dozen regional hospitals. Their numbers, last updated Tuesday, show 90.9% ICU beds are filled in our area, leaving 13 available. While their data includes an additional surge capacity of 543 beds, though their site clarifies the necessary staffing for that increase isn’t guaranteed.

KCHD’s lead epidemiologist Roberta Sturm said the current situation “feels very much like what we saw last year, maybe not quite to the point of where we were at this time last year, but … as our numbers continue to increase, we’re coming back into very familiar territory.”

Let’s revisit KCHD’s latest numbers. They show 61 people in the hospital with the virus, 16 in ICU, and eight on a ventilator. Those numbers were 147, 53, and 28 a year ago. The numbers also do not include patients currently waiting for COVID-19 test results.

While the numbers have been much higher, Sturm pointed out the delta variant is more contagious. “this variant seems to be transmitted more easily from person-to-person…people have more opportunity to come in contact with this virus and more opportunity get sick from it,” she said.

She also noted patients are reporting differences in COVID-19 symptoms this year.

“They have runny noses, congestion, whereas when the pandemic started, a lot of people had cough. Don’t be confused about what those symptoms look like. If you think it may just be a head cold, it could be worthwhile to get tested,” she added.

While the rising cases and concerns are familiar, what’s new this year is a widely-available solution.

“The best way to get out of this pandemic is through vaccination. I encourage anyone who is on the fence to get vaccinated. It’s going to keep you at work. It’s going to keep kids at school,” Sturm added.

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