One out of every eight cases ever recorded over the course of the pandemic in Knox County was reported in the past two weeks.
The omicron COVID-19 surge is hitting harder than ever.
Knox County reported almost 15,000 active COVID-19 cases this past week. That by far tops all previous surges like the one seen last fall with the delta variant, prompting local hospitals to issue a dire warning.
The omicron variant is spreading through the county at an unprecedented rate, with trends showing no sign of a plateau. Hospitalizations, deaths and case counts all shattered records in the past week.
Knox County recorded 1,423 new cases on Friday, topping the previous daily record by more than 300. An average of 944 people caught COVID-19 every day last week, dwarfing all other times during the pandemic.
“When will we see the peak?” Dr. James Shamiyeh, senior vice president and chief quality officer at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, said in a Facebook video last week. “The short answer is we’re really not sure at this point. Every indication we can see is that we are not at the peak at this point.”
More than 40% of all tests for COVID-19 are coming back positive, which demonstrates widespread transmission that is going undetected in the community.
Hospitals in the Knoxville region are under "unprecedented strain," administrators said in a joint statement Wednesday. Between omicron, seasonal illnesses, post-COVID patients and normal health emergencies like heart attacks and strokes, the system is overwhelmed.
“Our emergency departments are overflowing with these cases and other medical emergencies, leading to longer-than-usual wait times as we work to deliver care to all who are counting on us,” administrators said in the statement.
As of Saturday, 556 people were hospitalized across the 11-county Knoxville Hospital District, which is an increase of 85 people from the previous Saturday.
Hospitalizations at the UTMC and across the Covenant Health hospital network have both roughly tripled since the end of December.
Of those hospitalized patients, about one of every five is in the ICU. The majority of hospitalized and ICU patients are unvaccinated.
In 2022, 49 Knox County residents have died of COVID-19. Of those deaths, 29 were reported over the last week.
According to local medical experts, here’s how all community members can help reduce the strain:
Get vaccinated and boosted.
Before seeking emergency care, get a COVID-19 test if you have mild symptoms.
Wear a mask and social distance in public.
Treat medical staffers with respect. They’ve been through a lot.
“We are here for you when you need us. We ask for your patience and kindness to our health care workers and to one another during these challenging times,” hospital administrators said in the statement.
Vincent Gabrielle reports on science, technology and culture, and their intersection in the Oak Ridge Corridor
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: When will omicron plateau? Hospitals under 'unprecedented strain'