Welcome to the Friday report. This one comes to you on a week in which Inside of Knoxville won an award from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists. Thanks to a nomination from Rusty Odom of Blank Newspaper (who won six awards of their own!), Inside of Knoxville won first place for Pandemic Reporting (Digital Only) for 2020. I’m honored.
I remain committed to having next Friday be my last report for a while. Numbers continue to drop in the U.S., the state, and the county and it appears we may have a break. I’ve gotten more pessimistic regarding how low our numbers will go this time and about our chances of a resurgence this winter. If warranted, I’ll bring my coverage back later.
Primarily that tempering of my hopes comes as I watch a growing number of countries across the world return to double-digit percentage increases in cases. The U.K., as an example, has a 68% vaccination rate, to our 57%, and yet they’ve seen a 35% increase in cases over the last two weeks. They are far from alone, with quite a few European countries experiencing similar increases. It is clear we are not finished with the virus and that it will not soon be endemic on the level of the flu, for example, and case rates may not drop as low as was the case last summer.
The statistics referenced below, unless otherwise linked, are largely based on numbers from these sites:
The New York Times COVID Database
The State of Tennessee COVID Dashboard
The State of Tennessee COVID Vaccination Dashboard
The Knox County Health Department COVID Dashboard
The KCHD COVID Vaccination Dashboard
The recent decline in international COVID-19 cases has at the very least, paused. Driven largely by increases in Europe, cases increased by 1% over the last seven days, while deaths dropped by 2%.
Just over 243.4 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed since the beginning of the pandemic, along with 4,948,302 deaths from the virus. Just under 17.9 million cases are currently active, up almost 100,000 from last week. Just under 2.9 million new cases were added this week, as well as 46,845 deaths.
New cases are averaging 410,470 per day, up from 404,014 a week ago. Deaths from the virus are averaging 6,590 per day, up from 6,547 a week ago. The current daily rate of global deaths from the virus is very close to the same as one year ago. Perhaps, given vaccinations’ ability to drastically reduce deaths from the illness, future surges in cases may not produce as many deaths as previous surges.
Twenty-one countries have fully vaccinated 70% or more of their population, up four from a week ago. An additional twenty-six countries have fully vaccinated at least 60% of their population, five more than a week ago. The top five countries in the world for full vaccination rates are Gibraltar (99%), U.A.E. (88%), Cayman Islands (86%), and Malta (85%).
To further illustrate the limits of vaccinations on thwarting surges of the virus, Spain is the seventh most vaccinated country in the world with a 79% vaccination rate, far above our 57% rate, and yet Spain has experienced a 20% increase in cases in the last seven days. That said, their increase has brought them to 4 cases per 100,000 people, while the U.S., enjoying declines in cases, is still reporting 23 cases per 100,000. So, while we are improving and they are getting worse, we have about six times their rate of new cases.
Thirteen countries, mostly in Africa, have fully vaccinated fewer than 1% of their citizens. This number is down from 15 a week ago. The countries in the world with the lowest vaccination rates all have rates .3% or lower and include (from the lowest) Burundi, Congo, Yemen, Central African Republic, Chad, and Haiti.
Almost 46.2 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic, along with 753,749 deaths from the virus. The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases and deaths. Among countries with at least 1 million citizens, the U.S. is seventh in per capita cases, dropping a spot since last week. The U.S. moved up a spot in per capita deaths for the second consecutive week and is now thirteenth, passing Slovenia.
New cases in the U.S. declined by 15% this week (slightly better than last week’s 13% decline), to 524,385. The average number of new cases each day is 74,912, down from 86,428 a week ago. Over the last two weeks, new cases have declined by 24%. Active cases number about 9.5 million, down from about 9.7 million a week ago. The current pace of new cases is like early late July.
The U.S. is averaging 1,509 deaths per day, down from 1,818 per day a week ago. Hospitalizations have fallen by 19% in the last two weeks. The states seeing the highest current rate of death from the virus include (from the top) Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, West Virginia, and Idaho. The states with the lowest current death rates include Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, and Nebraska.
The states with the highest rate of increase in virus cases this week are, in order, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and North Dakota. That said, even these states are seeing a decline in cases, except for Montana. Like most of the country, even though they lead the country in infection rates, they are seeing a decline in spread. In order, these states rank 32nd, 36th, 48th, 49th, and 45th in full vaccination rates, for an average of 42nd.
The states with the lowest spread rates in the country this week are Hawaii, Florida, Louisiana, Connecticut, and New Jersey. In order of full vaccination, these states rank 18th, 20th, 44th, 2nd, and 7th, for an average of 18th.
219.6 million (about 66%) Americans have gotten at least one round of a COVID-19 vaccination. Over 11.6 million Americans have gotten a booster shot. 57% of Americans are fully vaccinated, the same as last week.
16 states have fully vaccinated at least 60% of their population, up one from last week. The states leading in vaccination rates remain the same: Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts. This week, Maine became the fourth state to hit a 70% full vaccination rate. The states with the lowest vaccination rates remain the same: West Virginia, Idaho, Wyoming, Alabama, and Mississippi.
The state of Tennessee has reported 1,270,876 cases of COVID-19 during the pandemic. After leading all states in the country in per capita cases for weeks, now the state is 2nd behind North Dakota. The state added 9,896 cases in the last week, down by about 4,200 from the previous week. The current daily average of 1,425 new cases per day is down from 2,043 a week ago. The rate of spread in the state is 19th lowest in the country, with a 43% decline in new cases over the last two weeks.
16,104 Tennesseans have died of COVID-19, including 335 this week, an increase from 262 reported last week. The state is averaging 48 deaths per day, up from 38 a week ago. Tennessee ranks 22nd in per capita COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, down a spot from last week. Though the increase in deaths seems counter-intuitive, deaths are reflecting infections from weeks ago, and with hospitalizations continuing to decline, death rates will almost certainly follow.
COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decline, with 1,278 hospitalizations reported across the state, compared to 1,575 a week ago and the peak of 3,831 on September 9. 424 COVID-positive Tennesseans are in ICUs, and 291 are on ventilators, down from 511 and 359, respectively, a week ago. Pediatric hospitalizations dropped to 21 COVID-positive pediatric hospital patients state-wide. There were 25 a week ago. 8 are in ICUs and 4 are on ventilators. ICU availability is at 9%.
The pace of testing has continued to slow in the state, while the positive test rate has slowly increased for the last two weeks. The current average positive test rate is 12.45%, down from 14% a week ago. Tennessee remains ranked at 39th in per capita testing among the states (and D.C.).
89 thousand Tennesseans got a vaccination over the last seven days, down from 102.7 last week. By my best calculations, 35.1 thousand of those shots were boosters. Our first shot rate moved up only from 53.5% to 53.7% over the last week and the full vaccination rate rose only from 47.7% to 48.1%. The state remains 42nd in state vaccination rate comparisons.
Vaccination rates remain the highest among older groups and the lowest among the young. Current percentages of full vaccinations by age group include 12-15 (31.7%), 16-20 (36.7%), 21-30 (38.7%), 31-40 (48.2%), 41-50 (53.3%), 51-60 (60.5%), 61-70 (72.2%), 71-80 (80.3%), and 81+(74.5%). The biggest increases were among the 20- and 30-year age groups, each moving up .7% in the last week.
- The UT systems acknowledged this week that many of its employees must be vaccinated under the mandate for federal employees, since federal money circulates throughout the system.
- Federal OSHA rules issued in August related to COVID-19 are being challenged by state Republican lawmakers, though they may risk losing federal funding if they persist. The rules include “requirements for personal protective equipment, social distancing and other safety measures for workers at medical facilities that care for people with COVID-19. It also requires paid sick time for employees who contract COVID-19, need to get vaccinated or are dealing with vaccine side effects.”
- A state law, proposed by Republican legislators, would provide unemployment for people who quit their jobs rather than get vaccinated. Objections are being raised by Democrats over the added expense to employers and the inconsistency that disallows a person who quits for any other reason to receive unemployment.
The Knox County Health Department reports 61,991 confirmed cases and 16,183 probable cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. For the last week, the KCHD reported 572 confirmed cases and 290 probable cases compared with 658 confirmed cases and 459 probable cases the prior week. The current average of 82 confirmed cases per day reflects a drop from 94 per day last week.
Today, the KCHD is reporting 82 newly confirmed cases and 81 probable cases. Active cases now number 1,398, a drop from 1,757 a week ago. Other than yesterday when the number was 1,397, it is the lowest number of active cases reported in the county since August 4 (1,240).
COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decline, with the 19-hospital region reporting 288 current hospitalizations from the virus, with 83 in area ICUs, and 56 on ventilators. A week ago, those numbers were 327, 110, and 81, respectively. 19 ICU beds are currently available in the region, down from 21 a week ago.
The latest report from UT Hospital indicates a census of 55 COVID-19 patients, down from 79 a week ago. 82% those hospitalized are not vaccinated and the average age for COVID-19 patients in the ICU is 51. Covenant Hospitals report 17 0confirmed COVID19 patients, down from 178 a week ago. They report 84% of COVID-19 ICU patients are unvaccinated with an average age of 59.
East Tennessee Children’s Hospital reports three pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations over the last week, down from four the week before. Two were 0-5 years-old and on was 12 years old or older. Of the older group, the patient was not vaccinated. As of the last report, three children remain hospitalized, with none in the ICU.
Deaths continue to remain high in the county and increased this week from 19 last week to 28 this week. for an average of four per day. Of the 28 who died in the last week, none were between the ages of 18-44, five were between the ages of 45-64, eleven were between the ages of 65-74, and twelve were 75 years old or older. 909 Knox County residents have now died of COVID-19.
Test demand continues to drop, with about 4,900 tests reported over the last seven days. The positive test rate of 12.4% for the week reflects a slight drop from 12.7% last week. Turnaround time for results remains just under 1.5 days.
The pace of vaccinations continues to decline in the county, with 6,815 shots given this week, down from 7,590 last week and 12,033 the week before. This includes booster shots. First and second vaccination rates remain stagnant, with 53.62% of Knox County residents fully vaccinated (up from 53.24% last week) and 57.64% having had at least one shot (up from 57.4% a week ago).
The Knox County Schools are reporting 72 active cases this week, far below the 179 they reported just prior to their fall break. The University of Tennessee is reporting 26 active cases, down from 28 a week ago.