TN’s highest COVID-19 hospitalization increases in areas without mask requirements, Vanderbilt reports


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee has seen a spike in cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 during the month of October. It is also the state’s deadliest month during the pandemic.

A Vanderbilt University report, released Tuesday, states parts of Tennessee are experiencing their highest number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients to date, while other areas seeing their numbers rise to the levels from late July and early August.

The report also tracks hospitalization trends broken down by differences in local masking requirements. Since early October, nearly every region of Tennessee has seen growth in hospitalizations.

Hospitals that predominantly serve patients from areas without masking requirements have seen the highest growth rate in hospitalizations. As the percentage of patients residing in mask-requirement counties increases, the university’s data shows the growth curve “flattens,” indicating much lower growth in hospitalizations.

Vanderbilt health officials stress, “areas with masking requirements also have seen greater changes in other community behavior (e.g., lower mobility to higher-risk points of interest) and may also have other virus mitigation strategies in place, so the observed relationship is likely not just about masking.”

“An important takeaway from this analysis,” the report concludes, “areas with virus mitigation strategies—including but not limited to masking requirements—have seen lower growth in hospitalizations since the summer months; hospitals in these areas are in a much better position to serve the entire spectrum of community health needs, not just COVID-19 patients.”

How each group is defined

COVID-19 Trends in Tennessee: (Source: Vanderbilt University – School of Medicine)

Vanderbilt categorized each Tennessee hospital based on the percentage of its typical patient population residing in counties with a masking requirement in place as of July 10, 2020. They repeated that analysis with hospitalization data through Oct. 23 and one additional change in presentation.

To facilitate comparisons of growth rates over time and across groups, the university indexed COVID 19 hospitalizations for each group based on the total observed on July 1, 2020. Meaning, if the <25% category had 100 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on July 1 and 200 on August 10, that group would receive an indexed value of 1.0 on July 1 (100 / 100) and 2.0 (200/100) on August 10 corresponding to a 100% increase in hospitalizations over a one-month time period. This allowed for comparison rates of growth across categories with varying levels of COVID-19 hospitalizations at the indexing date.

Since last week, five counties have announced new face-covering requirements. WilliamsonWilson, and Sumner counties’ mandates are currently in effect. Rutherford County‘s Face Covering Order will be reinstated Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. Montgomery County’s mandate will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28

Vanderbilt also researched what the implications of rising cases may be for the Tennessee economy moving forward. You can read the information here.

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