NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The number of children contracting COVID-19 now makes up 40% of all of Tennessee's cases, according to the state Department of Health.
Those numbers, released by the health agency earlier this week, arrive as Tennessee has seen a steady rise in hospitalizations that mirror the drastic numbers not seen since the state's last peak during the winter.
As of Wednesday, 3,338 Tennesseans were hospitalized due to the virus. In January, the state hovered around 3,300 hospitalizations.
Meanwhile, the state also has seen the worst rate for cumulative virus cases in children per capita in the country. Tennessee is reporting roughly 11,460 cases per 100,000 cases in children as of last week, the highest in all reporting states, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported.
"I'll be honest, even I did not think we would end up at this point where we are," said Jamie Swift, infection prevention director at Ballad Health, speaking at a Wednesday news conference.
Ballad Health, which runs hospitals in eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia, is juggling a bump in hospitalizations as the region experiences a higher than average COVID-19 positivity rate than the state. The state positivity rate is around 18%, while eastern Tennessee is averaging more than 20%.
"We are doing all that we can to prepare for the worst but our health care workers are tired," Swift added.
Gov. Bill Lee told reporters earlier this week that the vaccine was the key tool to overcoming the virus outbreak, but said he had "no plans" to change the state's current pandemic mitigation strategy. Lee, a Republican, has faced criticism from some medical experts and Democrats for not enforcing stricter measures to combat the virus.
"We know we have a huge challenge," Lee said.
To date, Tennessee remains in the bottom 10 among states for vaccination rates. About 42% of the state is fully vaccinated, compared to the national rate of 52.6%; and 49.7% of Tennessee have received one or more dose, compared to 61.9% nationally, according to a federal vaccinations tracker.