Ballad Health urges mask mandates in letter to Northeast Tenn. mayors

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health sent a letter to mayors across Northeast Tennessee on Monday, imploring them to enact a mask mandate within their municipalities.

Last week, Ballad Health reported that the number of hospitalized patients doubled each week. Now, that is no longer the case.

Ballad Health Chief Physician Executive Clay Runnels on Monday told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that from July 6 to July 13, the number of COVID-19 patients admitted nearly tripled, going up to 45 hospitalizations from 17.

“Ultimately, the decision to mandate mask-wearing is the decision of each individual municipality but to be most effective for all of our patients, we really needed the mayors to be on the same page and to, at least discuss, some supporting measures to reduce the spread of infection in the region. We care about all of our patients in all of the areas where we provide healthcare and we felt it was important that they were all involved and knew where we were organizationally,” Runnels said. “We were doubling every week in the number of hospitalized patients. From last Monday to this Monday, we actually almost tripled in cases. Last Monday, we had 17 hospitalized patients, and today we had 45.”

Ballad’s resources could become scarce as the COVID-19 cases continue to rise, he warned.

“Currently, we have 45 hospitalized patients, 12 of them are in the intensive care unit level of care and five are on ventilators. We’re okay from a ventilator standpoint at this point, but as the hospitals fill up, having enough healthcare workers, particularly if our healthcare workers begin to become ill, to take care of these patients when they’re in the hospital is our biggest concern,” Runnels said. “So, at this point, it’s just the resources, with regard to hospital beds and healthcare workers to care for the number of patients that are coming in, in addition to the number of cases in the community which will lead to more admission down the road.”

“It’s important, now more than ever, that the only way through this unprecedented crisis is with a concerted community effort,” the letter reads. “That’s why we are reaching out to implore you to enact a mask mandate for each city and county within our service area, to coincide with Governor Northam’s executive order and face-covering requirement in Virginia.”

The letter continues to say that while Ballad Health and other health experts have been emphasizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice to wear a mask to limit the spread of COVID-19, Ballad officials wrote, “without a mandate from our elective leaders, the rate of compliance will be insufficient to control the rapid COVID-19 growth we’re currently seeing.”

Ballad urged mayors to consider the following points:

  • Ballad Health currently has 45 COVID-19 positive inpatients.
  • The healthcare system currently has 12 COVID-19 positive patients in the Intensive Care Unite; five of those are on ventilators.
  • The length of stay for COVID-19 hospitalized patients is “significantly” longer than the average length of stay for other patients. Even when patients recover, this lengthy stay is a strain on them and their loved ones, and it puts Ballad team members at risk of COVID-19 transmission – potentially leaving fewer healthcare workers to care for local populations.
  • As flu season approaches, as well as schools and universities reopening, Ballad Health runs the “very real risk of our health system becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19,” and therefore, less able to provide the full range of healthcare services needed by local communities.

“While the modeling has a max patient census around 300, we are now potentially growing at a rate faster than the current model shows, and there is no reason to think that will change in the next 2-3 weeks,” the letter emphasized.

“These patients require a lot of care, a lot of specialized care, and their hospital stays are generally longer than our average patients, and for that reason, it’s concerning to us because it is resource-intensive and as we start to receive more hospitalizations from COVID patients, it does tie up a lot of hospital resources,” Runnels explained.

He said a group of advisory physicians and healthcare workers from Ballad meet daily to discuss what visitor limitations and elective surgery limitations might look like in the near future.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland Evely said he received the letter and is taking it seriously, though the county has the lowest COVID-19 case count, he said the growing number of hospitalizations is a concern.

“I’ve been monitoring the number of cases, you know, for the last two and a half months on a daily basis and I did receive the letter and while numbers are spiking in the eight-county region some, our numbers held pretty steady except for just an outbreak we had in our county at two work camps and, of course, those cases are over with now. So, it’s certainly been something that we’re monitoring every single day, as a matter of fact, I probably spend half my day monitoring what Ballad has sent and also with our county health department, who I speak to on an almost daily basis, up there to see if we have new cases or what measures we need to take. Of course, there has been some more stringent guidelines from the state that affects us here. The Supreme Court ruled that all people going to our courtrooms would be mandated to wear a mask so those are mandated in our courthouse if they’re appearing in court or in the court clerk’s offices, so that’s a lot of our foot-traffic here in our local courthouse. So, we’re monitoring the situation. It’s something that we would look at in the near future, but not at the present time.”

Unicoi County Mayor Garland Evely

Currently, Washington and Sullivan Counties are the only Northeast Tennessee Counties that have implemented mask mandates, with Washington County’s going into effect on Tuesday.

Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison also told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that he will enact a county-wide mask mandate on Wednesday.

She will have more information about that mandate on Tuesday.

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss