COVID-19 in East TN surging at 2.5 times higher than last winter with ‘no indication it is slowing down’

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The current COVID-19 surge is accelerating in East Tennessee, reaching a rate two-and-a-half times faster than during last winter’s peak, according to weekly statement from UT Medical Center. The concern is so great that the health system is not only requesting to retain the National Guard but plans to request even more assistance.

“I think that there is this general sense that in this type of situation that health care will just figure it out and, while we are very good at doing this and we try as hard as we can, we came to the realization this week that there probably is a ceiling to what we can do in terms of what we are able to staff,” Dr. James E. Shamiyeh, a pulmonary care physician, senior vice-president and chief operating officer for UT Medical Center, said.

“So health care is truly not an infinite resource at this point,” he said.

Shamiyeh said the average growth per day in the winter of 2020 was just over a patient per day while the current average growth is between two-and-a-half to three patients a day. The current surge had been projected to peak in mid-September but he said that is no longer the case due to the rapid rise in hospitalizations.

“We are rising at a rate of about two-and-a-half times higher than we were in the prior surge in the winter and there is no indication at this point that that is slowing down,” Shamiyeh said.

“More notable is you see how steep that line is on the right. It is showing no indication of plateauing at this point,” Shamiyeh said looking at the above chart. “At this point, to be quite frank, we don’t know how high that number is going to go.”

At UT Medical Center, 27% of beds, including intensive care unit beds, currently house patients with COVID-19. UT Medical Center has 155 COVID-19 patients as of Sept. 1, an increase of 23 patients over the past seven days. Shamiyeh said 87% of those hospitalized at UT Medical Center are unvaccinated. Of those in the ICU, 95% are not fully vaccinated. The average patient age is 57 years old.

“The vast majority of those patients are in the hospital because of COVID-19 and they are quite sick,” Shamiyeh said.

Two surge areas are open in Knoxville which Shamiyeh says have been a challenge to staff because this COVID-19 surge is hitting all hospitals and all health care providers at the same time.

“In a perfect situation when one area feels the strain, other areas can help bail them out. But what we are seeing now is the whole area is strained and that definitely impacts our ability to get patients through the hospital,” he said, noting that home health, hospice, post-acute care, outpatient practices, EMS services and more are all feeling the strain.

At the end of the video, Shamiyeh spent a few minutes discussing personal decision-making when it comes to heath.

“The landing place of all of those independent decisions and where they all collide is in the health care delivery system. That’s an inescapable fact and that ultimately affects patients both who have COVID-19 and other patients as well,” he said.

Shamiyeh urged everyone to read a joint statement from all area health systems that was issued Wednesday.

Steps to end the pandemic

  • Get vaccinated
  • Keep your distance and stay home with sick
  • Wear face coverings
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Clean frequently touched surface

The Tennessee Hospital Association Knoxville District includes Knox, Sevier, Jefferson, Hamblen, Union, Anderson, Blount, Cocke, Grainger, Claiborne and Campbell counties.

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