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Rising COVID-19 cases impacting hospitalizations in the Mid-South

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 10:40 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - New hospitalization numbers give us a snapshot into the fight against COVID-19 in our community.

Numbers are steadily rising, leaving some to question whether or not shutting down the overflow hospital in Memphis was the right move.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 70 COVID-19 patients were being cared for across the six hospitals that make up the Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare System.

Eighteen of those patients were in ICU, leaving 15 available beds in their four adult hospitals. That’s much better than the day before when there were just three beds available.

Hospitalizations are rising across the country, especially in the south where the vaccination numbers are considerably lower than the rest of the country.

“It’s almost all unvaccinated people who are hospitalized. It’s very painful for us to take care of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s who might die of this infection, totally unnecessarily,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Steve Threlkeld.

Threlkeld says the number of COVID-19 patients admitted into Baptist Memphis has tripled from just a few weeks ago.

“We hope it won’t rise a lot more,” he said. “I think we’ve all been reasonably confident that we won’t see the sorts of numbers in any way that we saw months before.”

Currently in Tennessee, there are just over 500 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. In mid-January during the height of the pandemic, the state health department was reporting over 3,000.

Earlier this week, state officials decided to close the city’s overflow hospital. The former Commercial Appeal building closed without seeing a single patient.

Threlkeld is concerned about the message that might be sent.

“I’ve said it before and it bears repeating. I think some people are lulled into a false sense of security because our hospitals are not overrun this time. We hope it stays that way,” he said.

Health officials say the highly contagious Delta variant is behind the rise in hospitalizations. The vaccine has proven to provide significant protection against the variant.

Threlkeld says while most people who are hospitalized are unvaccinated, they are also considerably younger since most of the elderly population has already been vaccinated.

He also says almost all who are on ventilators are morbidly obese.

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