The Look in Brief

‘Going in the wrong direction’: positivity rates surge in 10 rural Tennessee counties

By: - July 26, 2021 5:00 am
 COVID-19 Nurses at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in protective gear. (Photo: John Partipilo)

 COVID-19 Nurses at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in protective gear. (Photo: John Partipilo)

In 10 rural Tennessee counties, a key indicator of COVID-19 spread — the testing positivity rate — is surging to levels not seen since the spring.

Positivity rates measure the number of positive tests among all those testing for COVID-19.  In June, Tennessee was seeing a positively rate, also known as “attack rate,” under 3% statewide. That number is now approaching 10%.

In the top ten counties with the highest positivity rates, at least one in every seven individuals getting a COVID-19 test is learning they are positive for the disease. In Crockett, Humphreys and Van Buren Counties, more than one in five seeking testing learn they are positive for the disease.

“Just like you’ve seen in the past, when you have that increase in cases, when you have that increase in positivity rates, you’re going to see a commensurate increase in hospitalizations, and that’s certainly what we’ve seen here,” Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said in a Friday briefing with reporters.

Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health (Photo: Tennessee Department of Health)
Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health (Photo: Tennessee Department of Health)

Hospitalizations have jumped to more than 500 statewide from a low of 200 in June.

“Certainly going in the wrong direction for hospitalizations,” Dr. Piercey said. “We haven’t seen an uptick, yet, in deaths. Unfortunately that will probably come in the next few weeks.”

The vast majority of COVID hospitalizations in Tennessee — 97% — and the majority of deaths — 98% — are among the unvaccinated.

Of the 1,000 breakthrough cases of COVID infection in Tennessee among those already inoculated, there have been  195 hospitalizations and 27 deaths as of Friday — the majority among those age 60 or older, Dr. Piercey said.

While there’s a backlog in variant testing, which must be conducted in specialized labs and take more time, Piercey said she suspects 80% of all new COVID-19 infections are the Delta variant.

“Bottom line is vaccine is the No. 1 way to protect yourself against the Delta variant or any of the variants and the vaccine is still highly protective against the Delta variant,” she said. For those who remain unvaccinated Piercey urged mask-wearing, social-distancing and frequent hand-washing.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

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