Editor’s note: A previous version of this article said that there were 23 COVID-19 cases in patients and six cases in employees. It has been corrected to reflect 23 cases in employees and six cases in patients.
ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL)- Officials with Ballad Health confirmed a cluster of 29 COVID-19 cases at Sycamore Shoals Hospital on Wednesday, with 23 cases in employees and six in hospital patients
Jamie Swift, corporate director for infection prevention, said that the cluster was limited to the 12-bed geriatric psych unit at the hospital, where most patients are at least 65 years old. She said each patient and employee has been isolated.
According to Swift, the first case in the unit was identified on July 8, one week before officials announced the cluster to the public.
News Channel 11’s Kaylyn Kluck asked why Ballad officials waited a week to announce the cluster at Sycamore Shoals.
Swift said that officials focused their efforts on notifying affected family members and testing the rest of the hospital’s workforce before announcing the outbreak to the public.
“We immediately contacted the Department of Health,” Swift said, adding, “That was a priority, of focusing on these patients who were directly affected, getting everyone tested, getting test results, getting the scope of the cluster. We didn’t have anything to say until we had the size and scope of the cluster.”
Swift said that all Sycamore Shoals team members, including those who don’t have direct patient contact, were tested, “to identify the scale of the issue.”
According to Swift, any new admissions at the hospital are being placed in a closed unit.
All team members who tested positive have been isolated.
Swift reported 60 hospitalizations within the system, 34 more than officials reported a week ago. She said that 14 patients are hospitalized in the intensive care unit, and eight are on ventilators.
She reported that current patient capacity for the system is at 78.6%.
“These numbers indicate that really this disease is spreading more rapidly than ever right here in our community,” Swift said, entering another call for citizens to don a mask, keep a safe distance from others and wash their hands.
Chief Physician Executive Clay Runnels said that leaves about 40 open COVID-19 beds, and he announced efforts to open 50 more beds.
He said that some staff will be relocated in the coming days to help increase bed capacity. Additionally, Deaton announced tightened visitation restrictions that will begin on Friday.
Patients will be allowed one visitor, and all visitors will be screened upon arrival to a Ballad Health facility. He said visitation is still off-limits at long-term care facilities, and the new restrictions don’t apply to neonatal or pediatric patients.
Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton showed a series of graphs indicating the recent spread of COVID-19 in the region, calling it “tremendous growth.” He addressed the open letter that Ballad officials sent to regional mayors last week.
He called on municipalies that haven’t enacted a mask mandate to do so as hospitilizations continue to spike in the region.
“We continue seeing that doubling happening actually faster than we had anticipated it was going to happen,” Deaton said of hospitalized cases.
Deaton explained that the spike began around June 25, and attributed the growth in cases to “relaxed” social distancing and masking guidelines not being followed.
Last week returned the largest number of COVID-19 cases reported by the system at 612, he continued, and so far there are 250 cases reported this week.
In his last side, Deaton pointed to what he called “the worst-case scenario,” in which he said the hospital system would be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The graph showed theoreticals, but when asked what could lead to the “worst case,” Deaton didn’t give any numbers, but said.
“If people continue, or people are lax in not doing things we talked about, there’s no reason for it to stop the growth,” he said.
“If we don’t start making some changes in behavior and the way we’re conducting our day-to-day life, we could continue to see that grow exponentially.”
You can watch Ballad Health’s latest news briefing on our WJHL Facebook page below.