NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s another grim milestone in the fight against COVID-19 as the state surpassed 15,000 deaths this week.

COVID deaths are becoming more familiar and continue to upend families.

“My great aunt died from COVID last year, my sister-in-law’s grandma just died yesterday, my best friend’s uncle just died Monday from COVID, my cousin has died from COVID — I’ve had a lot of deaths in the family from COVID,” said Trakia Cole.

Cole’s friends and relatives make up just a few of the 15,000 plus Tennesseans who’ve died, a new milestone no one wanted.

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

Tennesseans over the age of 50 make up the bulk of the COVID-related deaths.

“Well of course these numbers of increasing deaths are very, very saddening because so many of them now are preventable,” said Dr. William Schaffner a Professor of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Currently, 46% of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated and doctors say that spells bad news for the already skyrocketing number of COVID deaths in the state and what’s to come.

“Here in our own state, we still haven’t vaccinated nearly enough people,” Schaffner said.

To put things in perspective, Dr. Schaffner says responding to this contagious virus can go one of two ways.

“One is by letting the virus spread, making people sick, killing many people, many hospitalizations — if we do that the virus will eventually infect most of us and we will achieve some sort of control,” Schaffner said.

He says that’s the hard road for folks to travel down.

“The easy road is for people to get vaccinated because that will prevent all of those illnesses hospitalizations and deaths,” Schaffner said.

Tennessee’s COVID Deaths September Surge

As of September 29, Tennessee has reported 15,099 deaths due to COVID-19. During the month of September, the state has reported 1,613 new deaths. The new COVID deaths currently make September 2021 the 4th deadliest month of the pandemic. It is also the first time since February that the state has reported more than 1K deaths. In fact, Tennessee has reported more deaths this month than the last five months combined (April-August 2021: 1,598 deaths).

While no one can guess the number of COVID-related deaths to come, Schaffner believes vaccinations are the surest thing right now.

“This is such a contagious virus, well over 80 percent of the eligible population vaccinated — I understand that’s a high bar but in order to control this virus we’ll need to do that,” he said. “If we don’t there will be counties in our state unvaccinated where this virus will continue to find people who are susceptible unvaccinated and will continue to cause illness well into the fall and into the winter.”

At this point, COVID-19 vaccinations are widely available for those 12 and older.

Doctors are hopeful a vaccine will be made available for those under 12 and older than 4 soon.