JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health reported on Wednesday that the COVID-19 positive rate has risen to 12.4 percent, and three virus-related deaths have occurred in the last seven days.
The following is a breakdown of COVID-19 data provided by Ballad Health:
- Total number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital: 46
- Total COVID-19 admissions: 10
- Total COVID-19 discharges: 6
- Total number of COVID-19 PUIs (patient under investigation): 12
- Designated COVID-19 beds available: n/a
- Number of COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit: 12
- Number of COVID-19 patients on a ventilator: 5
- First doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered: 44,157
- Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered: 43,082
On Wednesday, Ballad Health leaders resumed the hospital system’s weekly COVID-19 briefings. You can see News Channel 11’s live stream of the briefing below:
“As we see an increased number of COVID cases that end up in the [Emergency Room] or the hospital and as we go into the fall and if we see an increase of flu cases, I think this is going to bring not just Ballad, but I think the healthcare system as a whole really, closer to a breaking point,” said Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine.
The leaders call the recent jump in positive cases and patients “dramatic.”
“The week of June 13, we diagnosed 135 people with COVID-19 across our region,” said Ballad Health Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton. “By comparison, the week of July 18-24, we diagnosed 679 people with COVID-19. That’s over a 400 percent increase in just a few weeks here.”
Deaton also said the average age of people dying due to the virus has dropped. He also said he is concerned that the vaccination numbers in the region seem to have plateaued.
“Virginia is at 5.8 percent and Tennessee as a state is at 9.4 percent,” Deaton said. “We’re right at double what we are for the state of the Commonwealth of Virginia and just a huge increase over recent weeks and much higher than the average of the state of Tennessee for our region.”
The rise comes as the Delta variant is sweeping the nation.
“With the original variant, typically you would see them come into the ER 5-6 days after presentation of symptoms. What we’re seeing with this variant that’s different is they’re coming into the ER usually 24-36 hours after initial onset,” said Levine.
Delta also transmits faster, Ballad Health reported Wednesday.
“It spreads several times faster than the original virus,” said Ballad Health Chief Physician Officer, Dr. Clay Runnels. “It is concerning in our region because we have a low to moderate vaccination rate and vaccination continues to be the best defense against the Delta variant, as it has been with the other variants that we’ve faced.”
There is no way for the system to tell the difference between the strains of the virus.
“Routine rapid tests, PCR testing, like hospitals like us do, cannot distinguish between the Delta variant and other strains of the variant,” said Dr. Runnels. “That’s a very specialized testing that has to be done in labs. The state has the ability to do that, and they track samples from across the state.”
There also isn’t a difference in how the variants are treated.
“There’s no special treatment for the Delta variant. If you have COVID-19 from our standpoint, we treat it the same way. The state does surveillance,” said Dr. Runnels. “There are various entities that are doing surveillance to follow the strains, but we don’t have the capability to do that, and our treatment for COVID-19 regardless of the strain is all the same.”
The emergence also bringing some concern for those who are vaccinated.
“Vaccinated people are at a slightly higher risk of getting the virus or getting the infection with Delta, but it’s a very low, small proportion of people that will become infected,” said Dr. Runnels. “Although you may not be that sick, you could spread it to the unvaccinated and that’s driving the CDC’S decision to make that recommendation [on people who are vaccinated to wear masks in certain places.]”
However, the system still has one clear message: to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We would not advise you to get the vaccine if we felt the vaccine was unsafe,” said Levine. “We believe the best way to protect yourself and not end up in the hospital, struggling for your breath, is to get vaccinated.”
During the briefing, Ballad Health officials expressed concern over the outlook for the hospital system.
“We ran the scenario, really utilizing the more aggressive Delta variant making an impact for us. So we’re running now, probably around 44-50 patients per day,” said Deaton. “We expect as we have more spread of the COVID variant start to happen in the coming months as school starts back, as we see more and more people moving towards the inside events and really being closer together, we’ll start to see a greater spread of COVID-19 through the Delta variant.”
Right now, the system can house 75 COVID-19 patients.
“By late October, mid-October, we’re expecting to see back over 120 patients in-house,” said Deaton. “That’s lower than what we saw before, but as Alan mentioned, we’re seeing a lot busier patient load in our emergency department.”
The system also made a plea for parents to get their kids vaccinated against COVID if they are over the age of 12 and for their kids to be up to date on their routine shots.
“If we slip on our vaccination rates, especially in our adolescents who are going to be having more and more exposures, then we will see diseases re-emerge that we thought we were on top of,” said Niswonger Children’s Hospital Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Patricia Chambers. “Please go get your child’s vaccinations up to date before they start the school year. In the past decades, we’ve made huge strides in eliminating preventable deaths from vaccine-preventable illnesses.”
She did have some suggestions for those who are under the age of 12 and can’t get the COVID vaccine.
“We encourage mask-wearing, the CDC guidelines say that children should wear masks. If children are going back to school, we encourage the use of masking and social distancing, good hand hygiene,” said Dr. Chambers. “If your child is sick, please keep them home and follow your doctor’s advice about when they can go back to school.”
Dr. Chambers called this summer “brutal for healthcare.”
“Respiratory viruses are circulating that we normally see in the winter early in the summer,” said Dr. Chambers. “We are hoping that means we’re getting it out of the way, but unfortunately, we think that probably we’re going to see that trend continue. Our hospital has been full, and we continue to have a lot of very ill patients.”
As school starts back, there is a concern for how the virus will spread.
“We saw the effects on our children’s mental health through the quarantine and isolation periods of last year and we were hoping that would not repeat, but we also have to balance that risk with the fact that COVID virus is dangerous,” said Dr. Chambers. “Kids oftentimes do better with the coronavirus, but they can still have long-term effects, effects that we don’t even know what those are yet and we have had children die from the effects of COVID-19 in our region.”
As school systems are releasing guidance for the upcoming year, Ballad Health’s CEO says mask requirements in the classroom is not their call to make.
“There are people who are elected to make those decisions, and certainly we are here to provide advice guidance on things we can do to mitigate risk, but ultimately they have to make these decisions based on what they feel is best for the students,” said Levine. “We recognize that they’re trying to balance the mental health issues with students. Those are hard decisions to make, we don’t want to make it harder for them. All we can do is point to the CDC guidelines and encourage them to take a good hard look at it.”
Right now, Ballad plans to keep their community vaccination site at the mall in Johnson City open through August but could extend that based on use.
“If you’ve not been vaccinated, you really do need to protect yourself. If you’ve been vaccinated, then if you’re in closed in areas where there are a lot of people, it’s probably a good idea to wear a mask,” said Levine. “Even if you’re vaccinated, you have the potential to catch the virus then spread it even if you have no symptoms.”