NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - People aged 70-74 have a 40% greater risk of hospitalization and 70% more likely to die because of COVID-19 than those five years younger than them, the Tennessee Department of Health commissioner said on Tuesday.
Dr. Lisa Piercey said the state added those 70 and older to be allowed to get the vaccination because of this during a press briefing.
“We’re taking a risk-based approach and target those at risk,” Piercey said. “That’s why we went down in a five-year increment.”
Tennessee will begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations to Tennesseans ages 70 and older this week as the state has begun receiving increased allocations of COVID-19 vaccines.
Piercey said the state began receiving additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but supply is still an issue.
“We’re excited for increased supply week-over-week, but we’re still in low supply and there’s not near enough to meet the demand,” Piercey said.
The increase in the doses in the state, around 13,000 each week, is enough to cover the 70-plus population.
"I have always taken the stance of I would rather under promise and over deliver," Piercey said. "It is my hope and we are looking every single week if we can push further, can we go to 65-plus and 1b, which is the teacher category, and if I can do that in two or three weeks, I will absolutely do it if supply allows."
The health commissioner said the state has seen a dramatic decrease in hospitalization in the past month. She said hospitalization since Jan. 6 has dropped 55%.
“This is a very dramatic decline,” Piercey said. “That’s in no small part to Tennesseans doing their part.”
Piercey said Tennesseans practicing social distancing and wearing a mask has played a role in the decline.
Currently about 1-in-7 patients in Tennessee hospitals are COVID patients, down from 1-in-3 patients about a month to six weeks ago, according to Piercey.
She said the number of patients in ICU beds would drop a little more slowly. Currently 1-in-4 patients in ICU beds are COVID patients, down from about 50% a month ago.
“We’re seeing a dramatic improvement and are encouraged by that,” Piercey said.
The Tennessee Department of Health is expanding access to COVID-19 vaccination with a focus on rural and underserved areas, the department announced on Thursday.
Piercey said the number of deaths reported is still at high levels across the state. She said most deaths occur a week or two after the case is reported. Then sometimes it’s another week to three weeks before the death is entered into the system.
“We expect that to start trending downward in the next week or two,” Piercey said.
The health commissioner said most residents of the state’s long-term care facilities have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. These vaccinations are being handled through the federal pharmacy program.
“We’re 100% complete on nursing homes and high-skilled facilities,” Piercey said. “We’re making good progress on assisted living residents.”
The commissioner said she expects those doses to be finished in the next few days. CVS has completed vaccinations in 66% of the facilities is was assigned in the state while Walgreens has finished 92% of the first doses.
Piercey thinks it will take the month of February to vaccinate the 70-plus population. In March she hopes to move on to the 65-plus population and teachers.
The Tennessee Department of Health has updated its COVID-19 vaccination plan.
She does not think school districts should wait to reopen. She said getting teachers vaccinated is a priority, but it should not be a pre-requisite for opening school.
"We've had multiple, well over 100 districts in Tennessee, that have reopened safely who have been operating for six or seven months," Piercey said. "Their teachers have done well. Their students have done well and we do not believe vaccination has to be a pre-requisite before opening. We encourage everybody to get open as soon as they can."
Metro Public Schools are planning to return to in-person learning for the first time since November.