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In the last few weeks, Tennessee has seen higher daily five-digit new case counts than there was last fall, when hospitals began filling with patients critically ill with COVID-19. Then, hospitals were struggling to deal with the new disease and finding ways to treat patients. This fall the patients are younger and sicker, requiring “more advanced and mechanical treatments to assist in breathing, putting pressure on the availability of equipment, staff and critical care beds to provide this care,” according to Williamson County Medical Center.

Last fall, those who were the sickest were in their 80s and 90s, most having pre-existing conditions making them more susceptible to the disease, that is not the case now. This year the delta variant is hitting hard on those who are unvaccinated. It is also hitting a younger population. Currently, Williamson County Medical Center’s most critical patients are in their 40s and 50s.

The biggest difference from last year, is that, according to a recent report by WKRN, “…children are taking the brunt of the rapid COVID-19 spread … accounting for 40% of the state’s new cases….” The number of school-aged children infected in the month of August was almost twice what it was during the worst of the last spike in December 2020. Governor Bill Lee’s stance against mask mandates and his executive order that allows parents to let their children opt-out of school mask mandates could open the state up to even more ill children as COVID-19 is not the only illness parents need to be aware of this fall.

Other diseases are also on the rise in children this year as they go back to school. The most active disease they face is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). According to usnews.com, “RSV is a highly contagious, flu-like illness that causes symptoms such as runny nose, coughing, sneezing and fever, and is more likely to affect children and older adults.” Cases of colds and flu are also increasing.

With so many children kept home the last 18 months, many have missed standard inoculations they would have received at an annual physical. This may lead to a recurrence of diseases like measles and whooping cough.

Health officials with the World Health Organization recently told reuters.com that this push of multiple diseases on the youngest part of the population could become a “perfect storm.” Kate O’Brien, WHO Director of Immunization, stated in the article that backsliding on vaccinations could set us back as far as prevention of diseases. It is important that children are given all annual vaccinations.

Vaccination is the key to stopping COVID-19 in its tracks, too. Just as we have done with so many other horrible diseases, like polio. To reach herd immunity, 70% of the population must be vaccinated.

While there have been breakthrough cases, those who are critically ill are ALL unvaccinated. So, vaccination is imperative. According to information from the CDC shared by Williamson Medical Center on their Facebook page, 18 unvaccinated patients will die out of every 1,000 cases. For those who are vaccinated, that number is one in a million.

Tennessee is now leading the nation in daily COVID-19 cases, and both politicians and medical professionals are asking Governor Lee to do more. While Lee is providing additional funding for hospitals to put toward staffing and equipment, he continues to avoid calling for a mask mandate when there is extensive proof that masks do indeed protect against the passing of the virus.

It is important to continue to wear masks and social distance when indoors, and some sources have suggested that masking outdoors when in a crowd is also important. For those who are not able to get the vaccine due to age or a medical condition, it is important to continue to follow these rules, as well as washing hands frequently.

Hospitals and medical professionals are begging those who have not gotten vaccinated, and are able, to please get the vaccination. It can mean the difference between life and death. The Mayo Clinic website offers the latest scientific information about vaccines, how they are made, and how they work.

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Lee Rennick has an extensive background in marketing, advertising, pubic relations, and workforce and community development. An information omnivore, she has written articles about everything from ballet shoes to interior design, to some of the newest local scientific research, two plays, and copy for an Addy Award winning hot sauce label.

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