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VOL. 45 | NO. 31 | Friday, July 30, 2021

Tennessee health chief: No signs COVID resurgence is slowing

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee's top health official said Monday that the state sees no signs that the resurgence of COVID-19 is slowing, though she saw hope in a recent bump in vaccinations.

Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey's comments coincided with announcements in the state about mask requirements. The University of Tennessee is requiring students and employees to wear masks indoors for classrooms and labs and mandated student academic events at its various campuses for the fall semester. Meanwhile, Shelby County, which includes Memphis, will require masks in county-owned facilities open to the public.

Piercey told reporters that Tennessee has seen a 204% increase in the last week in new cases, with hospitalizations hitting the level experienced in February. She said the state is beginning to see an uptick in deaths, though those happen at a lag of several weeks.

The outbreak fueled by the delta variant, she stressed, is widely among the unvaccinated, with less than 0.2% of Tennessee's vaccinated population getting COVID-19. She said those so-called breakthrough cases are rare and usually mild, and 80% of the limited cases where vaccinated people are hospitalized are among people 65 and older.

"I don't want you to get into the habit of thinking that vaccine doesn't matter, or that you're likely to get a breakthrough infection, because you're very, very likely to not do that," Piercey said.

She also said vaccine uptake is up 22% week-over-week, from 62,000 to 76,000 a week. There are week-over-week increases in 94 of Tennessee's 95 counties, she said.

Tennessee remains in the bottom 10 of states for vaccination rates, with 39.2% of its total population fully inoculated against COVID-19, compared to 49.7% for the country as a whole, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's vaccination tracker.

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