Blount County has not gone a day without a COVID-19 death since Jan. 4, Tennessee Department of Health Data shows.
Since the start of the year, 27 Blount Countians have died from the virus.
TDH reported the first Blount COVID-19 death on April 5, 2020. From then to the end of 2020, 98 county residents died from the virus. That puts the county’s average monthly death toll at about 10 per month. January nearly tripled that.
“I don’t think that we’re seeing anything in particular that’s accounting for an increased number of deaths. I think instead, it’s a natural growth of the pandemic,” Blount Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harold Naramore emailed. “If (the virus) attacks the right person and they have the right vulnerabilities and health issues, they are more likely to develop serious health issues, require hospitalization and possibly die.”
County COVID-19 statistics mostly mirror state trends. On Tuesday, TDH reported 40 new deaths statewide. More than 8,400 Tennesseans have died from the virus since March 20 of last year, when the first death was reported.
“Our country topped the 400,000 mark for COVID deaths this week, and last week on Tuesday, Jan. 12, it saw deaths exceed 4,000 for a single day,” Naramore said. “Across the nation, we’re seeing the worst couple of weeks of the pandemic to this point.”
Despite the rise in COVID-19 deaths, coronavirus hospitalizations have seen a slight decrease in Blount.
“I’m guardedly optimistic about what we’re seeing here in Blount County, though,” Naramore said. “I expected that we’d see a stronger surge of hospitalized patients than we have, and that’s what we’d prepared for.”
Blount Memorial on Tuesday reported 32 COVID-19 inpatients with eight of those in the intensive care unit. The hospital had nine available ICU beds.
BMH reached its peak of 67 COVID-19 inpatients in mid-December.
“We don’t know why we’re not seeing the surge that hospitals across our country and our region have seen and continue to see,” Naramore emailed. “COVID is all around us here in East Tennessee, and other hospitals have not seen the lower numbers we have.”
State health department data showed that statewide, 2,647 people were hospitalized with the virus on Tuesday.
Naramore said one reason he believes coronavirus hospitalizations are down in Blount County is because of the hospital’s outpatient administration of monoclonal antibodies.
Blount Memorial rolled out its COVID-19 antibodies treatment the first week of December at the hospital’s East Tennessee Medical Group. Infusions take place in a “designated and separate space” that has direct access in and out of the building and allows recipients to avoid the main lobby, BMH Director of Marketing Jennie Bounds emailed.
Since then, more than 400 people who qualified because of their age or health conditions received antibody infusions the day of or day after testing positive for COVID-19.
Naramore said antibody treatment is “designed to help decrease the chance of hospitalization in a high-risk population.”
During the infusion, antibodies attach to the spike protein of the virus. Once the antibodies attach to this protein, the virus can’t attach to other cells. The body then defends itself by limiting the spread of the infection and preventing it from reaching other cells in the body.
“I do believe that this has helped people recover at home who otherwise may have required hospitalization,” Naramore said.