Ballad CEO: Politicization of masks to blame for area’s rising COVID-19 rates; tradeoff for “liberty” costly

Local Coronavirus Coverage

TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL) — Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine took to Facebook Wednesday night as school districts across the region continue reporting a rise of COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

The self-described “freedom-loving, 2nd-Amendment-supporting, federalist Republican” revealed that as COVID-19 mitigation practices have become politicized throughout the ongoing pandemic, he believes the tradeoff to be a dangerous one.

“I strongly disagree with those who feel masking is an infringement on liberty, [but] I do understand where these folks are coming from,” Levine said. “That having been said, political choices come with tradeoffs. Choosing individual liberty and freedom is a legitimate position to take, but what comes with that is to ensure you have a clear-eyed understanding of what the tradeoff is for yourself and for your fellow citizens.”

That tradeoff foresees further spikes in COVID-19 cases as maskless children return home to parents, guardians and grandparents.

“As these kids bring the virus home with them from school, their family, if unvaccinated, will be exposed,” Levine said. “This will increase hospitalizations in the coming near term for those who have severe symptoms.”

Doctors continue monitoring these symptoms as the Delta variant runs rampant, concerning health experts who have noticed a spike in cases among a much younger age group than previously seen during last year’s COVID-19 surges.

“More children and teens will be hospitalized,” Levine said. “Besides my obvious concern for the health and well being of children and teens who are exposed to COVID, and who may have symptoms severe enough for hospitalization, I am also concerned by the fact that our system of health care for children is not built for this kind of surge.”

He revealed that Ballad Health only has 10 PICU beds — two of which are currently occupied by teenagers depending on ventilators.

In addition to the plummeting ages surrounding COVID-19 positivity rates, Levine warned parents to keep their eyes peeled for emerging complications among children exposed to the virus.

“You need to familiarize yourself with a condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C,” he said. “This condition seems to accompany the virus which causes COVID, although science is still trying to understand how it happens. MIS-C leads to inflammation of the heart, lungs, brain, eyes, skin or gastrointestinal system (or many of these at once).

“Children who present with MIS-C generally either had the COVID virus or had been around someone with COVID-19. MIS-C can be deadly, but timely medical care is proving to be effective. Generally, children with MIS-C will need to be hospitalized.”

MIS-C is found to occur six weeks after exposure to the virus and can target children who never displayed COVID-19 symptoms, according to Levine.

“If your child is in a school now, and there is no masking, it is highly likely your child is being exposed, even if they are asymptomatic,” he said. “Notably, they do not say MIS-C has only impacted kids who had COVID, but also those who were around others who had it. Well, in the schools, that’s happening now.

“So, as COVID spreads through the schools, particularly in schools where there are no, or limited, mitigation efforts underway, the die is already being cast for what is to come in the coming months.”

On top of this, influenza season looms as fall and winter near, which Levine said is expected to be more prevalent this year.

“Children’s hospitals are filling up due primarily to COVID, which follows high levels of transmission of the virus,” he said. “And yet, the rate of hospital admissions for children is low. Said another way, the population of kids who need to be hospitalized is low, but the infrastructure is already being tested.”

To avoid this, Levine said institutions should aim to protect the public.

“Regardless of how individual parents feel, our laws require vaccinations in schools, car seats for infants and toddlers, seat belts for kids, and we don’t let parents decide not to do these things because their freedom is being infringed upon (there may be some valid reasons for not vaccinating certain children for medical or religious reasons, and society has accepted this),” Levine said. “Society, and our legislatures, and our governors, have decided that the tradeoff is worth it because the evidence shows that doing these things protects our kids and our families from what might be devastating decisions by some to put their individual liberty first.”

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