NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee is seeing decreasing COVID-19 cases as the delta variant wanes through the state. However, deaths are continuing to rise and doctors are now cautioning folks to not let their guards down.

The death toll is rising following several weeks of high positive COVID cases in Tennessee.

“The death trend hopefully will turn around, but they’re always lagging behind the number of cases by several weeks,” said Dr. Loren Lipworth, Professor of Epidemiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

While overall COVID cases are decreasing, it’s still higher than what doctors would like, which is bad news for the unvaccinated.

“Many of those people, the ones who are going to become ill, and later down the line be hospitalized and ultimately some of those people, unfortunately, will die so this is a process that takes several weeks,” Lipworth said.

Deaths are often a lagging indicator of how intense and widespread the COVID virus is.

“Somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of people who are getting tested for COVID are actually testing positive and so that obviously contributes to the number of new cases,” Lipworth said. “As they become what we call active cases, a portion of those go on to be hospitalized, and then to die so that’s why those trends lag behind.”

Across the state, hospitals are having to adjust to the rapid increase in deaths.

Ballad Health Hospital in east Tennessee wrote on Facebook:

“The flattening of inpatient cases we’re seeing right now is, unfortunately, created in part by a lot of people dying.”

Adding: “Unfortunately, this week, we’ve had to utilize the morgue trailer at Johnson City medical center due to the high number of deaths from covid-19; having 20 deaths there last weekend alone.”

Seventy-one people in Ballad Health facilities have passed away within the last seven days due to COVID-19, and one in three deaths in our hospitals is related to COVID-19. We’re approaching a death rate near last winter’s surge, when we had to bring FEMA refrigerated morgue trailer to several of our hospitals to manage the high levels of deaths we were experiencing. 

Unfortunately, this week, we’ve had to utilize the trailer at Johnson City Medical Center, due to the high number of deaths from COVID-19. We had 20 deaths there last weekend alone.” 
Ashlea Ramey

“The sad and frustrating part is that many of these deaths are preventable and so people are coming into the hospital and they are dying and as I mentioned they’re overwhelmingly unvaccinated people so this is the burden on this hospital,” Lipworth said.

Tracking COVID in Tennessee
📊 COVID-19 cases among TN school-age children
📊 Tennessee’s Current COVID-19 hospitalizations
📊 New COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by month

Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville), says the skyrocketing deaths are the results of Governor Bill Lee not having a plan.

“The governor has no plan, his only plan has been how to protect his political career, he has not made policy-based healthcare decisions or outlined some plan to save people’s lives and we’re seeing the results of that right now,” he said.

We’ve reached out to Governor Bill Lee’s office for comment on the rise in deaths and have not heard back.

Over 14,600 Tennesseans have died since the start of the pandemic.