Ballad Health: ‘There is a risk of COVID anywhere you go at this point’

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health officials warned that hospitals are feeling the strain from the increasing spread of COVID-19 and that the system may have to halt elective procedures and enact visitation restrictions soon.

During a news briefing on Friday, Jamie Swift, Corporate Director of Infection Prevention at Ballad Health, said that hospitalizations and cases are increasing day over day and pleaded for community members to take the initiative to curb the spread of the pandemic.

As of Friday, 29 patients were currently receiving care for COVID-19 at Ballad Health facilities, she reported. Ballad Health’s Chief Operation Officer Eric Deaton estimated that a dozen of those patients are in the intensive care unit.

Ballad Health officials said in a release Friday that an estimated 5-10% of people who contract COVID-19 are eventually hospitalized and that, “COVID-19 hospitalizations within Ballad Health have ranged from pediatric patients to the elderly.”

Currently, Deaton estimated the system could “stand up” about 125 beds for COVID-19 patients across the system. He and other officials stressed that Ballad officials would have to consider other options to expand capacity if hospitalizations continue to rise at the current rate.

“We’re really on the brink in this area of the pandemic becoming much worse,” Swift said. “There is a risk of COVID anywhere you go at this point.”

Swift continued to explain that reported COVID-19 cases are getting harder to trace and aren’t restricted to clusters with identifiable sources. She said that points to evidence of increased community spread within the Tri-Cities.

Deaton said hospitalizations range from pediatric to geriatric patients. He added that the average age of patients being treated for COVID-19 at Ballad facilities is 60.

Earlier this week, Swift told News Channel 11 that hospitalizations in the system are doubling every seven days.

Deaton warned that if hospitalizations continue to increase at the rate they have been, it could mean another stint of reduced elective procedures and restricted visitation at Ballad Health facilities.

Deaton called the recent data “very alarming.”

“As our numbers continue to climb, we’ll have more and more hospitalizations in the future,” he said.

Dr. Clay Runnels, Chief Physician Executive, said that officials are concerned with resource availability as flu season is on the horizon.

He said that the COVID-19 unit at Johnson City Medical Center is “at capacity,” but that Ballad currently has the resources to expand that capacity at JCMC and other hospitals within the system.

“If they (COVID-19 hospitalizations) keep doubling like they have been over the past few weeks, that capacity could shrink very quickly,” Deaton noted later in the conference.

Officials addressed the upcoming All-Star Race taking place at Bristol Motor Speedway next week, noting that it could be one of the largest sporting events to take place since the pandemic began its spread in the community earlier this year.

Deaton said that Ballad officials have been in touch with officials from BMS, and said that he believes the precautions that officials are taking for the event are appropriate.

When asked about any concerns that visitors will spread the virus at local businesses and hotels, Deaton said that it’s up to everyone in the community to guard against the spread of the pandemic.

He asked for local businesses to buckle down on enforcing guidelines such as social distancing and mask requirements as visitors enter the region for the event.

“This is not a battle that we fight within a healthcare system,” he said. “Really every business, every individual has to be diligent about this.”

You can watch the entire news briefing on our WJHL Facebook page below.

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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