KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Tennessee Health Department Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey revealed Monday that the first half of August has seen more new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state than any full month of the pandemic.
During a health briefing Monday, Dr. Piercey addressed the recent spike in COVID-19 cases across the country as well as efforts by the state to alleviate staffing issues in Tennessee hospitals.
There have been 1,023 new hospitalizations in Tennessee in the first 15 days of August, more than any other full month of the pandemic. The next worst month for COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state was November, when new hospitalizations surpassed 900.
There are 2,200 COVID-19 Tennessee patients hospitalized as of Aug. 15. Dr. Piercey said the majority are adults. A total of 45 children are currently hospitalized.
According to state data, 90% of ICU beds in Tennessee are filled. Piercey said Monday that more than 40% of ICU beds are filled by COVID patients. Between May and July, 88% of all patients hospitalized and 94% of COVID-19 deaths in Tennessee were unvaccinated.
While addressing breakthrough cases in vaccinated patients, Piercey said the vast majority of breakthrough cases were in immunocompromised individuals.
“The vast majority of people who are in the hospital are unvaccinated and those who are vaccinated by in-large have some time of immune system disorder either naturally or because of medication that they’re on that is causing them to have these more severe breakthrough cases.”Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee Health Department Commissioner
The State Health Department will now offer an additional dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for immunocompromised individuals. Local health departments across the state will be administering the additional dose option with no appointment necessary. The CDC recently recommended a third shot for moderately to severely immunocompromised people.
Starting Monday, Tennessee National Guard members will be available to supplement medical facility staff. This strategy was previously implemented in December as hospitals struggled to treat high case numbers during the winter. National Guard members were also previously deployed across the state to conduct COVID-19 testing.
To bolster limited hospital staff, hospitals can use current staff members at higher levels of care in order to allow administrators to back-fill staff with lower-skilled workforce members. Both strategies were authorized through Gov. Bill Lee’s most recent executive order aimed at increasing staffing flexibility in hospitals.
The state will also use federal relief funds to provide hospitals with staffing assistance grants.
With many hospitals experiencing emergency room delays amid the heightened workload, Piercey implored members of the public not to go to the ER unless it is a medical emergency. “If you don’t have a true medical emergency, don’t go to the ER,” she said.
She advised people to go to urgent care clinics or other lower levels of care where they can be rapidly discharged.
The State Health Department reiterated that the easiest way the public can help relieve pressure on the health system is by getting vaccinated. Dr. Piercey said the week-over-week vaccination rate has doubled and over 100,000 new vaccinations have been reported since Aug. 8. “It’s convenient, safe, highly-effective and not too late,” Piercey said.
Dr. Piercey said another way to help relieve pressure on hospitals is for COVID-19 patients with high risk categories such as diabetes or high blood pressure should consider taking monoclonal antibodies, medication that can boost the immune system’s ability to fight COVID-19 and help prevent the disease from progressing.
Monoclonal antibodies are readily available across the state and take about two hours to administer through an IV.
“I promise you, if you are high-risk and you get infected, there is no better two hours you can spend than getting that infusion because it is so highly effective of keeping you from progressing to the need of hospitalization or even more severe disease,” Piercey said.