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Hospitals join forces in plea for public's help as virus case counts, deaths rise

Their request comes as the region confronts more people in the hospital because of COVID-19.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Get the virus vaccine, please. Try not to go to the emergency room unless you're facing a real medical emergency. Wear a mask and try to keep your distance in crowds.

That's the advice -- and plea -- from Knoxville area hospitals Wednesday to the public as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, creating a greater burden on doctors, nurses and health care staff trying to deal with the ongoing pandemic while also meeting the routine medical needs of the East Tennessee community.

"Not only are we once again facing significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases, we are also facing a shortage of health care workers in the U.S., and Tennessee is no exception," the joint statement reads. "Staffing is lower now than before the pandemic began, and several of our health systems have enlisted the help of the Tennessee National Guard to help alleviate this staffing crisis."

The Knox County Health Department, like health professionals across Tennessee, have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases primarily because of the contagious delta variant. Younger people represent a larger portion of the sick, figures show. Hospitals across the state say ICU occupancies and pediatric hospitalizations also are on the rise.

Many of those now getting sick or in critical care haven't gotten a widely available vaccine that health experts say is highly effective.

Medical professionals have expressed growing alarm over the increase, especially because vaccines have been available to most of the population for months.

East Tennessee parents also are speaking out at the rise in cases among schoolchildren, a group that last year saw relatively small outbreaks of COVID-19.

"We are doing everything we can to manage the current increase in COVID ER visits and hospitalizations while also caring for the ongoing, non-COVID-19-related health care needs of our communities," the hospitals' statement reads.

Taking part in the release were University of Tennessee Medical Center, East Tennessee Children's Hospital, Blount Memorial Hospital, Covenant Health, Sweetwater Hospital Association and Tennova Healthcare.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Knox County Board of Education was set to discuss a number of possible options to address a boost in COVID cases in the 58,000-student Knox County Schools system.

Some other school systems also have had to confront an uptick in the virus among schoolchildren.

"Now is the time to come together as a community to protect ourselves and one another," the Wednesday statement reads. "Our entire region has experienced suffering and loss, but the spirit of East Tennessee is as strong as ever."