Ballad Health CEO hopes school districts continue to require masks as system becomes overwhelmed

Keeping Schools Safe

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – As the region’s largest healthcare system hits record COVID-19 numbers four days in a row, school systems across the region are preparing to reconsider their mask mandates.

“Children generally don’t get as sick as adults do, so our concern was that if you have a lot of kids that are infected, the basic math is that we’re going to get overwhelmed at Niswonger,” said Ballad Health’s CEO, Alan Levine.

The school boards are set to reconsider wearing masks in schools at their meetings before their mandates expire.

The Johnson City School Board will discuss its mask requirement at the board’s Tuesday meeting.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed Executive Order 84 on Aug. 16 giving parents the ability to opt their children out of mask mandates enacted by local school or health boards.

“We generally staff for about seven. Kids generally don’t need intensive care services. Ten beds normally would be more than sufficient for our region,” Levine explained. “We were up to 11 inpatients with about six in the pediatric intensive care unit, obviously we were very concerned when we hit six.”

There are six children’s hospitals across Tennessee. Niswonger is the only one in the Northeast region and has 10 ICU beds.

Levine says he is thankful schools have put more mitigation efforts in place and his system has supported masking up in schools, especially throughout this second surge.

“There’s a lot of stuff being spread throughout the school systems and they’re bringing it home. So, what we’re seeing in the hospital now, these are parents,” said Levine.

With his hospitals becoming more overwhelmed by the day, he hopes the rules stay in place.

“It’s not just 40 and 50-year-olds,” said Levine. “We’ve seen stories of popular coaches and teachers who have died where it was clear that they were being exposed in a school setting.”

Levine also fears the implications of not wearing masks in school are far more detrimental than the effects of wearing them.

“Wearing masks in school is a bad option. Not wearing masks, in my view, is a worse option,” he said. “Having an adult role model die is the worst option for a child who now has to deal with the anguish of ‘why did they have to die?'”

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