Ballad Health officials credit vaccines as reason for cases flattening but hospitalizations overall not letting up

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Ballad Health reported 321 COVID-19 patients at its hospitals Wednesday. This is 14 less than Tuesday.

Sixty-seven of those patients are being treated in intensive care units and 43 have been placed on ventilators.

The health system provided an update on its COVID efforts.

Since December 16, Ballad Health has provided more than 25,000 vaccines across the region to its health care workers and community members.

The health officials are giving credit to vaccines for flattening the number of cases over the last few weeks but this does not mean the region is in the clear.

“We continue to see the rates of the new COVID-19 hospitalizations overall is not letting up,” Ballad Health Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift warned.

Ballad Heath’s positivity rate for the past seven days is 29.1%. This compares to Tennessee’s positivity rate of 20.4% and Virginia’s rate of 16.1%.

Ballad Health Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton said: “Our highest was a little over a week ago with 361. We have seen a steady decline in that. I think it is because of our team members getting vaccinated, the community getting more vaccine and starting to break that chain.”

Thanks to the health system’s ‘Safer at Home’ program, Deaton said the health system has been able to keep about 100 COVID-19 positive patients out of their hospitals. They have had about 700 patients in the program, overall.

Deaton said: “Our patients can go home through the emergency department by having a thermometer and a pulse oximeter and then doing follow-up work with them through our telemedicine program.”

Ballad Health says 1,303 people have died from COVID-19 across its service area, including 658 inside Ballad facilities. However, as more vaccines become available for those who are most at risk, the region closely straddling the moderate scenario in Ballad’s predictive modeling chart.

Deaton said: “We think that we’re probably more along that yellow line. The decrease here really does represent more and more vaccines getting into our community and the ability to get that curve down. I think that’s a very positive sign that we’re seeing.”

An accumulative number of 25,000 vaccines have been provided across the region, since Ballad opened its first pod on December 16.

Deaton: “We’ve been able to provide nearly 18,400 vaccines now to our team members, to physicians, to volunteers, to our contract employees and to other community health care workers in our region. Now, 6,800 of those have received second doses.”

As those who are at high-risk of COVID-19 await their turn to get vaccinated, health officials said therapeutic treatment is available in the region for those who have tested positive but have not yet shown symptoms.

“Monoclonal antibody is designed as more of a preventative of severe disease. It’s designed for people that are early on in their infection that have a high risk of progressing to severe disease,” Chief Physician Executive Dr. Clay Runnels said.

The monoclonal antibodies are given to people older than 65 or people who have comorbidities. It helps if it is given before someone has respiratory symptoms or usually within the 7-to-10-day time frame of testing positive.

“We provide that through an outpatient clinic in Unicoi and we also provide or have it available through two other sources. One is the emergency department,” Dr. Runnels said. “It can also be provided through a nursing home.”

Additionally, the region has seen the impact COVID-19 has had on the health and finances of people in the region. Ballad officials said many people are also feeling the mental impact.

Woodridge Hospital Clinical Programs Manager David Sapp said he has seen a large mental health impact from the COVID-19 virus.

The hospital is the only inpatient behavioral hospital in Northeast Tennessee.

In his role as a therapist, Sapp said depression and anxiety come along with having the virus.

In response to this, the hospital has developed a team to assess the needs of COVID-19 patients with mental illness. Along with patients, the hospital sees health care workers.

Sapp said he is not surprised that alcohol sales and the list of the use of drugs have increased as well, due to the pandemic.

“We really need to watch out for each other. If it’s safe to do so, check on people. We need to FaceTime, call, text. Whatever means you can to check on your neighbors, on family. One of the biggest things is isolation with this virus,” Woodridge Hospital Clinical Programs manager,” David Sapp said.

Ballad Health officials advise if you feel like stress from the pandemic is disturbing sleep, eating or feeling lack of motivation, there is help at Woodridge Hospital.

To watch Ballad Health’s entire health conference update in its entirety, click on the video below:

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