MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - More Mid-Southerners are getting critically sick from COVID-19 and need to be hospitalized because of the disease.
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is what health officials are watching right now, said the Executive Dean of the College of Medicine at UT Health Science Center.
“If someone is going to the hospital, they’re sick. That gives us the best idea of the prevalence of the disease in our community,” said Dr. Scott Strome.
Data charts from the Departments of Health for Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi all show the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations rising dramatically.
“There is a very clear worry that the hospitalizations are going up dramatically and that is a cause for concern,” said Dr. Strome.
According to Strome, as more people are hospitalized with COVID-19, fewer beds will be available for other patients.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 81% of hospital beds are in use. Not all of those patients are being treated for COVID-19.
There are 391 ICU beds available across the state.
“I want to reassure people concern doesn’t mean panic,” said Strome. “There’s a panic out there that ‘oh my gosh’ we’re going to run out of hospital beds. No one’s going to be able to take care of me. We’re going to run out of ventilators and that’s simply not the case.”
Dr. Strome says there are several safety valves in place, including pausing elective surgeries again in all three states, opening additional beds at children’s hospitals or at the VA, and in Shelby County the overflow hospital is complete and ready for patients.
“The big challenge that we’re gonna face if this continues to increase is challenges around getting nurses, et cetera to staff those beds that we have,” he said.
Health officials are also watching test positivity rates in all three states, which is the number of positive tests compared to the number of tests taken.
Using data from covidtracking.com, The Investigators crunched the numbers and found the overall test positivity rate in Arkansas is 7.5%, in Tennessee it’s 6.3% and in Mississippi it’s 11.7%.
Those rates are higher than they were one month ago when in Arkansas had a 6.5% test positivity rate, Tennessee had a 5.5% rate and Mississippi was at a 9.3% positivity rate.
“Positivity rate depends on who we’re testing. So as we test more and more symptomatic people, our positivity rate is going to go up. As we test asymptomatic people, our positivity rates are going to go down,” said Dr. Strome. “So that’s why we have to look at hospitalizations as perhaps the best indicator we have as where the disease is in our community.”