In Hamilton County, 103 total deaths have occured as of Wednesday. That compares to 379 deaths in surrounding rural counties, which over 800,000 people call home.
Residents of rural communities typically skew older, experience higher rates of chronic disease and are less likely to have health insurance or access to healthcare. All of these factors put them at a higher risk for fatal COVID-19 infection.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey spoke on the severity of the dangers facing older populations.
“We’ve noticed some trends. As I mentioned Wednesday, the average age of hospitalization is 70. And the average length of stay is nine days. I want people to internalize that because it’s not just a quick in and out, a lot of people have experience without patient surgery, or with short stays. These are pretty extensive stays,” Piercey says.
Bradley, Grundy and Marion counties are considered in the “red zone” for the virus based on the number of new cases and positivity rates, according to the White House’s COVID-19 task force.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke says that rural communities should adopt a mask mandate.
“We have hospitals that treat people from across all of southeast Tennessee. That puts us in a very vulnerable position especially when they don’t have a mask mandate. The best thing that we can do is advocate for all those communities to adopt the best practices that will keep their residents and families safe like a mask mandate,” says Berke.
Hamilton County health officials say that mask mandates have helped with slowing the spread of the virus from Chattanooga’s late July peak, that the current surge is due to parties and large gatherings when people let their guard down.