COVID-19 surge: Tennessee National Guard deploys over 550 soldiers to assist hospitals

The Tennessee National Guard deployed over 550 soldiers and airmen to support the state's health department and emergency management agency as it works to control the surge in COVID-19 cases. 

Troops have been sent to 58 counties across Tennessee, including Shelby County, and are assisting with COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and administrative support for health care providers, the Tennessee National Guard told FOX TV Stations. 

"We began supporting the Department of Health and TEMA in March 2020 at the request of the Governor. Since then, we have had between 250-700 Soldiers and Airmen supporting this effort at any given time during the last 17 months," according to an emailed statement. 

The deployment comes as cases reach record highs not seen since January, according to state health officials. 

TN National Guard

FILE - A clinical nurse, 2nd Lt. David Wenger, with the 134th Medical Group, administers COVID-19 vaccine shots to an Airman. (Tennessee National Guard)

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On Monday, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said that just halfway through August, the state has already shattered its single-month record for new COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

Piercey told reporters the surge in COVID-19 patients "really tips the scales" in hospitals even if there aren’t as many people currently hospitalized with the virus as there were during the January peak. 

She said hospitals were already pretty full before the latest resurgence through the delta variant and the facilities are struggling with staffing shortages and workers sick with COVID-19. 

"An interesting and startling statistic is that in the first 15 days of August, we’ve had 1,023 hospitalizations," Piercey said during the video news conference. "That is higher than any other full month combined in the pandemic, which was November and it was in the 900s." 

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Currently, about 2,200 people are hospitalized in Tennessee with COVID-19, with 43 of them children, according to the state, compared to about 3,300 in January. Notably, the influx of patients led Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville to say late last week that its adult hospital and emergency department are "completely full." 

Piercey said that from May through July, 88% of hospitalizations and 94% of deaths were among the unvaccinated, while vaccinated hospitalizations mostly involved immunocompromised patients. An additional shot of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is now encouraged for immunocompromised people. 

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Tennessee has risen from 1,824 on July 31 to 3,879 on Saturday, while that rate for deaths has grown from about 8.6 deaths a day to 16.3 over the same timeframe, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

The latest wave of cases has motivated more Tennesseans to get vaccinated over the last month, going from 58,000 a week to now more than 100,000 — many of them first doses, Piercey said. 

RELATED: COVID-19 boosters: Walgreens, CVS offering 3rd dose to immunocompromised 

Still, Tennessee remains in the bottom 10 among states for vaccination rates. About 40.1% of the state is fully vaccinated, compared to the national rate of 50.7%; and 47.1% of Tennessee have received one or more doses, compared to 59.7% nationally, according to a federal vaccinations tracker. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported out of Los Angeles.