Surge makes Tennessee U.S. leader in new COVID cases per capita

·3 min read

Tennessee leads the nation in new COVID-19 cases per capita, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. 

According to data compiled by The New York Times over the last week, the state has seen an average of over 8,300 new coronavirus infections each day.

Health experts believe part of the alarming number has to do with a low rate of vaccinations, particularly among children. 

Fewer than one in four children ages 12 to 17 in Tennessee are vaccinated against COVID-19. 

That is having devastating consequences for families.

Julie McDivitt's son, Jacob Rodriguez, started feeling sick in late July. He told CBS News' Omar Villafranca he felt like he "had COVID." 

"Felt really tired, headache. Couldn't taste nothing. It was awful," Rodriguez said.

But his symptoms didn't raise any red flags for McDivitt. Even after a positive COVID test, she expected her athletic son to easily overcome COVID, and for a while, it looked like that was the case — until his temperature started to rise.

"Day 2, fever hits, and it never let up," McDivitt said. "Fourteen days straight, he ran a fever."

McDivitt took Jacob to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis. He had developed severe inflammation from MISC — a rare and potentially fatal condition related to COVID-19.

"The nurse comes in, and he's like, 'It looks like Jacob's played four quarters of football with no pads on inside of his body,''' McDivitt recalled. 

"When you hear that from a medical professional, what are you thinking?" Villafranca asked.

"Truthfully? 'God, where are you taking us with this? Am I going to be on that list? Is my kid going to be one of those numbers?'" replied McDivitt. 

For four days, Jacob and McDivitt sat together in a hospital room as Jacob slowly improved. But over the course of those four days, the hospital went from treating five pediatric COVID patients to 21. Within a few weeks, it peaked at 33. At least three children died in August.

Le Bonheur Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Nick Hysmith called the hospital's increase of COVID cases a "perfect storm" between "the vaccination rate, the delta variant and schools starting back."

"Not only is it devastating to see a child in that situation, but to know that the majority, at this point, it's preventable is also devastating," said Hysmith.

McDivitt said Jacob had not been wearing a mask properly and, like her, is not vaccinated. 

But Jacob's bout with the virus has changed things for the family; McDivitt says she's got plans to see her doctor about the shot.

"We're getting it. I just have some questions first. I'm getting it," McDivitt said. 

"People were just coming up to me, like every class period like, 'What did you go through?' and I was just telling them, like, it's no joke, like take this more serious, or you could probably end up like how ended up," Jacob said.

Due to his infection, Jacob lost 20 pounds and had to miss two games of his senior football season. On Friday, he made his return to the field, running out with his teammates, wearing jersey number 41. 

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