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Vanderbilt Doctor: Tennesseans who contract COVID-19 likely to infect 6 or 7 others with the virus

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Mike Osborne) -- A Vanderbilt Medical Center epidemiologist said this week that Tennessee’s current surge in new COVID-19 infections is growing “substantially” faster than any previous wave.

WMOT News asked Vanderbilt Professor of Medicine Dr. Loren Lipworth to compare Tennessee’s current, forth wave of pandemic infections to previous surges. Her comments are sobering.

Dr. Lipworth said Sunday that the wave of new cases that began the first of July is expanding substantially faster than what Tennessee experienced at the peak of the previous surge this past winter.

She said new daily infections have jumped 20 fold in the past 6 weeks. During last winter's surge, it took twice that long to produce only a five to six fold increase in new cases.

Dr. Lipworth also noted another important difference in the current surge. She said in her analysis that previous waves of new infections were led largely by older Tennesseans. However, the current surge is topped by “adults in their 30s and 40s and children.”

Perhaps most sobering of all, Dr. Lipworth said the Delta variant now circulating in Tennessee is far more infectious than previous strains. She wrote that during earlier surges each Tennessean infected passed the virus on to an additional two or three state residents. But at present, every infected individual is “likely to infect six or seven people who then each infect six or seven additional people.”

As has been noted elsewhere in the country, Dr. Lipworth said Tennessee’s latest surge is occurring primarily among the state’s unvaccinated residents. As of Monday morning, just 39.7 percent of Tennesseans are fully inoculated against COVID-19, one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation.