COVID hospitalizations have now spiked six-fold in Tennessee over the last month. And Memphis, which saw the state’s first delta variant cases, is projected to surpass the hospital totals from the worst of the winter surge.
Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare is treating more than 200 COVID patients and expected to blow past the January peak this week.
“Despite thinking the most dire times were behind us, we are now seeing them in front of us,” Dr. John Eick said on Zoom call with reporters Tuesday. “Frankly, it’s scary.”
Staffing shortages are becoming a problem again, Eick says. Public health officials say there are plenty of rooms in hospitals to handle the surge, despite more than 1,200 hospitalizations. The problem is keeping enough nurses on the clock to care for them.
Patients being admitted tend to be much younger than they were before. Methodist Le Bonheur even had two pediatric deaths over the weekend after seeing just four during the earlier stages of the pandemic.
Even with those who are young, Eick says many have complicating factors like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, which are common across the South.
More than 90% of cases and hospitalizations are among those who are unvaccinated, which still accounts for a majority of Tennessee residents. But the surge in cases has revived the pace of vaccinations.
“We hear a lot of stories of regret from unvaccinated patients who then become ill,” said Dr. Shirin Mazumder, infectious disease specialist at Methodist Le Bonheur. “It’s really disheartening to see the cases go up to levels we were seeing before the vaccines were widely available. So many of the hospitalizations and deaths that we’re seeing are avoidable through vaccination.”