TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL) – As flu season approaches, COVID-19 has not yet loosened its grip on the region’s hospitals.

On Friday, Sept. 2 Ballad Health released its weekly COVID-19 scorecard, showing in our region 153 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those patients, 14 are in the intensive care unit for treatment and two require the use of a ventilator to breathe.

A closer look at Ballad’s weekly data reports from the past month shows that that number has not budged much:

September 2 August 26 August 19 August 12
153 hospitalized 154 hospitalized 159 hospitalized 155 hospitalized
11 new COVID admissions 14 new COVID admissions 8 new COVID admissions 10 new COVID admissions
22 COVID discharges 40 COVID discharges 28 COVID discharges 19 COVID discharges
14 in ICU – 2 on ventilator 20 in ICU – 10 on ventilator 23 in ICU – 11 on ventilator 17 in ICU – 7 on ventilator
10 pediatric cases 4 pediatric cases 3 pediatric cases 4 pediatric cases

“The community has been basically rampant with COVID,” said Dr. Stephen May, medical director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department. “We are seeing 30-40% positivity rates in those tests that are reported to the states. Of course, that does not include the home testing that everybody does.”

While hospitalizations remain high, Dr. May commented that at the very least, the bright side is that hospitalizations are remaining steady, and deaths are not spiking.

“The death rate has not really gone up that much associated with these increased hospitalizations, which is reassuring. It demonstrates omicron is more infectious but less virulent at causing morbidity and mortality,” said May.

That is reflected in the chart above as new COVID admissions have not been higher than 14 within the past month.

The week leading up to Friday, Sept. 2, Ballad Health reported 25 deaths related to COVID-19 in those seven days. The week before that, Ballad stated 24 people died.

As flu season approaches and kids are back in the classroom, Dr. Christina Johns, a pediatric emergency physician and Senior Medical Advisor for PM Pediatric Care, said it’s important to remain vigilant about both flu and COVID.

“It’s important to continue testing,” Johns said. “It is important to keep kids who are sick home so they are not spreading infection of any kind to other students.”

She added that simple reminders for children can help prevent transmission, including hand washing, keeping hand sanitizer in their backpacks and not touching the face or mouth often.

“We know that there has been a high rate of absenteeism within the school systems associated with COVID, both among teachers and students,” May said.

As of Sept. 2, Ballad Health reports that 10 children are receiving treatment for COVID-19 at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, the highest in the past month.

“We don’t see that with those who are vaccinated. That only emphasizes the importance of vaccinating our children for those few that do get really really sick,” said May.

Health leaders say it is hard to predict what the impact of this year’s flu season will look like. In 2020, flu season was virtually nonexistent, and in 2021, it was very light.

“My crystal ball doesn’t work that well in predicting flu for this year. But I think it is certainly important that we protect our most vulnerable with our flu shots and protect the ring around that person with flu shots,” said May.

Some reports indicate flu could be more active this year.

Getting the shot in September or October works best for most people as flu typically peaks in February. The higher risk you are, the sooner you should get it.

Dr. Johns says for children, it’s best for parents to talk with a pediatrician about timing, especially for children who have not received a flu shot before.

“In general, what we like to say in pediatrics is ‘flu before boo.’ So get it before Halloween for sure,” said Johns.