Tennessee Health Commissioner Says State is Heading in Wrong Direction with Rising COVID Cases

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       As COVID-19 cases are on the rise again nationally, we are also seeing an increase here in Wayne County with the spread of what medical professionals say is the more contagious “delta variant.” The variant made up 83% of all U.S. cases as of July 20, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a Senate committee hearing.

       Tennessee ranked 18th among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA Today Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data has shown.

       Tennessee’s top health official, Dr. Lisa Piercey, said last week in a media briefing that she is concerned the state is backsliding when it comes to COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

       “Our level of hospitalizations is now at about the level we were in February. That is clearly the wrong direction,” the Tennessee Health Commissioner told reporters.

       Piercey says statewide, over 1,000 Tennesseans were hospitalized last Monday; the vast majority are unvaccinated, making up 93% of cases. “We have had a very sharp uptick in cases over the last several week. We have had a 204% increase in the last week. We are still in that upward trajectory and right now there are no signs of that slowing,” said Piercey.

       About 44% of people in Tennessee have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 39% of them being fully vaccinated, as of the end of July. For comparison, 57% of the U.S. has had at least one dose, and 49% are fully vaccinated.

       When it comes to back-to-school concerns, Piercey said Tennessee state officials decided it best to leave all decisions on masking and precautions to be left to school districts.

       “That needs to be decided in the context that vaccine is available for children down to age 12. Vaccine is very effective in preventing that. Likewise, masks do protect unvaccinated children,” said Piercey.

    The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are both recommending mask-wearing for children in schools.

       Piercey added widespread mandating for any COVID-19 precaution is no longer effective. “I think the day of government mandates is over. You’re seeing that nationally, whether at the state level, county level, or federal level. There is not an appetite for that, people are not paying attention to that anymore,” said Piercey.

       Tennessee is seeing a small number of “breakthrough cases” which represents a person who tests positive for COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. However, that number only makes up less than 0.2 percent of current cases.

       “Breakthrough infections are rare and when they do happen they are generally not serious and rather mild,” said Piercey. “I don’t want you to get in the habit of thinking that the vaccine doesn’t matter or you are likely to get a breakthrough infection, because you are very likely to not do that.”

       Of around 2 million people vaccinated in Tennessee to date, only about 1,600 breakthrough cases have been reported; around 80 percent of the breakthrough cases are in people over the age of 65.

       Tennessee’s seven-day average for new cases is 1,871. The state positivity rate is over 13 percent.