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What to know about rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations

The Delta virus variant continues to spread — nearly 2-3 times faster than the original strain, according to a recent study. Now the dominant strain in the U.S., it also causes more severe COVID-19 illness. And rising breakthrough infections led the CDC to revise its mask recommendation for fully vaccinated people indoors.

Health care providers are now seeing cases spike, and many patients are once again being hospitalized for COVID-19. In Tennessee, hospitalizations are climbing.

“In May, more than 99% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. were among the unvaccinated and therefore preventable,” explains Dr. Brian Wilcox of Ascension Medical Group, a faith-based healthcare organization located in Tennessee. “We’re also seeing this across Ascension Saint Thomas facilities among unvaccinated people and, tragically, it’s mirrored in the data on death rates as well.”

For many years, Ascension Saint Thomas has been our strategic provider partner to provide high-quality, cost-effective health care in Middle Tennessee. We’ve collaborated on value-based care initiatives, telehealth expansion, and other patient-centric health improvement programs.

How have low vaccination rates led to the rise of Delta?

Low vaccination rates contribute to continued spread of the disease and more infections. But they also allow the opportunity for more dangerous mutant variants to develop, as we’re seeing now with the Delta variant. The CDC’s recently updated masking guidance for fully vaccinated people demonstrates the level of concern we should all have about the Delta variant.

Previously, COVID-19 didn’t seem to affect children and young adults as dramatically, But some countries like the U.K. are already seeing higher Delta infection and hospitalization rates among young people and children.

“When COVID-19 vaccination became available to health care workers last year, it was celebrated widely as our ‘shot of hope’ after so much devastation and loss,” says Dr. Shubhada Jagasia, president and CEO, Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital Midtown and West. “Now, it’s disheartening to see COVID-19 infection rates rising once again despite the widespread availability of highly effective vaccines.”

What’s the best way to fight rising COVID-19 cases?

“The best way to fight COVID-19 is to prevent it. Available data overwhelmingly shows that vaccination is safe, effective, and saves lives,” Dr. Wilcox says. “Some patients, not just those who are chronically ill or elderly, experience severe COVID-19 symptoms far worse than any side effects from vaccination. And some continue to have these symptoms from getting infected for many months after getting sick.”

While continued research is needed to fully confirm the exact effectiveness of specific vaccines against virus variants, emerging studies are showing existing mRNA vaccines are effective against Delta for those who are fully vaccinated.

What can you do to protect yourself?

COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in the U.S. And except in special circumstances where vaccination cannot be taken, being fully vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against the virus and virus variants.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spiking once again across the country – and especially in states with low vaccination rates like Tennessee. So whether you’re vaccinated or not, it’s a good idea to consider the following:

  1. Follow all safety precautions required by a workplace or local business, this includes updated masking guidelines by the CDC.
  2. Continue handwashing with soap and water, use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
  3. Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, especially if you’re unvaccinated.

Need more advice?

Speak to a provider who knows your medical history if you have questions or concerns about vaccines based on your health status. Your friends and family may have good intentions, but they may not know your body like you and your doctor, so it’s important to speak to a provider who knows you well.

If you do decide to go online to learn more about vaccines, do seek reputable sources like the CDCFDA or World Health Organization (WHO). BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can also visit to get the latest on support for COVID-19.


About Ali Whittier, CHES®, Senior Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorAli joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2014 and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC). A native of Iowa, she has more than a decade of experience in health promotion and community engagement, as well as health care communications.

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