Blount Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harold Naramore is predicting more COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks as new cases in Blount County continue to climb.

“There are some indications that we may be nearing a plateau of new cases and hospitalizations in the United States, as a whole, right now, but that’s not what we’re experiencing in Tennessee or here in Blount County,” Naramore said in a statement from the hospital.

As of Friday, there have been 27 COVID-19 deaths at Blount Memorial since Aug. 1, according to hospital officials.

“People are dying needlessly in this community, and they’re going to continue at alarming rates if we don’t work together to stop this virus,” Naramore said.

The struggle against COVID-19 at Blount Memorial has become so severe that the hospital has been forced to bring in a mobile morgue, something Naramore lamented last week.

“Sadly, this has become necessary,” Naramore said of the mobile morgue.

On Sept. 7, Blount Memorial recorded 85 COVID-19 hospitalizations, the most since the beginning of the pandemic. The hospital’s numbers have hovered around that peak in the days since. On Friday, 81 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at Blount Memorial.

“It’s very clear that our new-case peak is continuing to rise, and I think we’re realistically about 65-70% up the peak,” Naramore explained. “That means we’ve got a good chunk to go before we can expect to see any type of change in the positivity rates and new case numbers in our state and community.”

Naramore added that even when the new cases do reach a plateau, hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise for some time.

“It’s important to remember that even if our new cases start to plateau, it will be several weeks after that before we see any slowdowns or decreases in hospitalization rates and/or deaths, as those things lag behind positive tests and test volumes,” Naramore said.

With COVID-19 crushing the hospital, an intense strain is being put on health officials who have to treat patients with other serious conditions or who have experienced a medical emergency.

“There are people dying of COVID-19, but we’re still caring for a lot of very sick people in our community who do not have COVID but who experience medical emergencies such as heart attacks, stroke, car accidents and so on,” Naramore said.

As the COVID situation continues to worsen at the hospital, Naramore is once again pleading with the public to get vaccinated. Of the 81 COVID-19 patients at Blount Memorial on Friday, 65 were unvaccinated.

“I continue to emphasize, vaccination is so crucial in stopping the spread of this virus,” Naramore said. “This virus is making it hard for us and hospitals throughout our region to take care of everyone who needs care, COVID or not. Vaccine is readily available in this community. We just need people to take it.”

As of Friday, Blount County has reported 20,211 total cases of COVID-19. Some 217 Blount County residents have now died from the virus.

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