- Associated Press - Thursday, December 31, 2020

Tennessee is closing out a tumultuous year ranked first in the country for new COVID-19 cases per capita, record high hospitalizations and staggering death rates.

Those grim numbers coupled with delays in the state’s virus vaccination rollout are causing health leaders to stress continued diligence in social distancing and mask wearing in 2021.

“Widespread immunity from our vaccine will take several more months and in the meantime we can’t let down our guard,” said Nashville Mayor John Cooper on Thursday. “We have to slow the community spread and give our health care workers some relief.”

As of Thursday, the mayor’s office reported that just 14% of middle Tennessee’s hospital beds were available while 9% of ICU beds were available.

Statewide, there were about 1,426 new cases per 100,000 Tennesseans over the past two weeks, which ranks first in the country for new cases per capita, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University.



Cooper also issued a reminder that the city would be enforcing occupancy limits on New Year’s Eve, particularly restricting group numbers to eight. He encouraged the public to celebrate at home as Music City’s restaurant and bars face a 10 p.m. curfew.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health acknowledged that shipment issues had caused delays to distributing immunizations. The state had set a goal of administering 200,000 doses by the end of 2020 but as of Wednesday - a day before the deadline - had given about 90,000 doses.

However, as Tennessee began allowing people 75 and older to be immunized, long lines of interested residents already began popping up on Thursday. Previously, only health care workers, first responders and patients and staff in long-term care facilities were allowed to receive the vaccine.

Teachers have also moved up in line to receive the dosage with hopes of keeping schools open for in-person learning.

In Hamilton County, which encompasses Chattanooga, law enforcement officials warned that wait times for drive-up vaccinations were well over two hours on Thursday. As traffic snaked for nearly two miles away from the distribution site, authorities urged those eligible to receive the vaccine to come back at a later time.

The vaccine is being offered through employers, health departments and hospitals.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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