In the past week, startling news has emerged out of Athens and Cleveland as intensive care units hit 100 and 99 percent capacity, respectively, due to influxes of COVID-19 patients.

These reports coming from the U-S Department of Health and Human Services paint a dangerous picture of the current condition of COVID in these two Tennessee towns, both of which were included in a recent New York Times report of emerging coronavirus hotspots.

And while Chattanooga’s capacity rate isn’t quite as high, at 81 percent, Dr. Jay Sizemore with Erlanger Health Systems says that he expects that number to rise – warning that right now, all options for a potential capacity limit were on the table.

“Certainly as we’ve heard in the past, the potential for alternative care sites, potential of coming up with innovative ways to take care of these patients, potentially outside of hospital settings in a safe manner. All of that, I would say, is on the table and open for ongoing discussion especially if the trends continue as they are,” says Sizemore.

And while Dr. Sizemore said he was glad that a COVID vaccine was finally on the way, he warned that it would still take some time before we would see I-C-U capacity rates start to decline.

“Even if the vaccine’s available in the next ten days for healthcare workers, that’s not going to reverse the trends that we’re seeing now unless our community members change their behavior. It’s just not going to happen. Vaccine is 95 percent effective – it will not matter in the short run unless we’re able to change our community’s approach to this pandemic,” he says.

Sizemore urged Chattanoogans to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing even with Pfizer approving a vaccine just last night, saying that community behavior is just as important.