JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, some in our area are pulling together to create a preparedness plan in case the curve does not flatten and our area healthcare systems become overrun with positive cases.
East Tennessee State University, Ballad Health, and Washington County EMS are partnering in a COVID-19 preparedness plan in the event that our region sees an outbreak.
“There are a lot of emergency plans in place that we hope we never use but there’s a comfort in knowing that if there’s a need, we can come together and rapidly provide services for the region, not just our campus or even Johnson City, but the entire region,” ETSU Chief Operating Officer Jeremy Ross told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.
Ross also said that parts of ETSU campus are being set aside and prepared in the event that health care workers need to be isolated from their families or need to stay in a safe area while fighting the spread of the pandemic and treating COVID-19 patients.
“Depending on capacity and numbers, we’ve started with 50 rooms in one of our residence halls, it’s one that’s close to State of Franklin, it’s close to parking, it’s Lucille Clement,” Ross said. “It’s an area that’s close to facilities that have been converted into medical facilities, so that’s why we selected it, and it has most importantly separate HVAC systems.”
Ross added that there are costs involved in this preparedness plan, however, he has been surprised by the regions willingness to come together and help out during this time of crisis and any other crises that may come during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The university would take care of utilities, take care of infrastructure, Ballad Health has said ‘if we need to offer our vendors for disinfecting and cleaning, we’ll do that,’ and they have a safe mechanism in place. Washington County EMS has said the same thing,” Ross explained. “Ultimately, the approach has been ‘let’s just do what is right,’ and you know if there’s a cost associated to it, we’ll take care of it, everyone has said that, every person.”
ETSU has so far manufactured over 2,000 face shields for healthcare workers through the university’s engineering department.
“So, this weekend, when we had 829 tested, many of those healthcare workers or nurses actually wore those shields,” he explained. “We’ll have these test results in a few days, and some are starting to come back already, none are positive at the moment, but results are just starting so we’ll learn a lot, again, in the coming days what the results show as to the need for more testing.”
Over the weekend, the university also hosted a personal protective equipment drive for medical supplies during which Ross told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that nearly 2,000 pieces of equipment ranging from n-95 face masks to gloves to disinfectant supplies were donated.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but everyone has been forward-thinking,” he said. “I never thought ETSU would set up testing sites for hundreds of people, we would manufacture shields for healthcare workers, that we would have donation sites and people would readily give up their products, that we would be doing antibody testing in our college of medicine or that our facilities could be thought of as makeshift hospitals and on and on.”
Ross explained that there have been inquiries from the public to help in the cause if they can.
“Same way with shields, ‘do you need stainless steel screws, do you need materials for this piece?’ People are now donating, saying ‘I’ll help put them together, if you can send it to me in my home, send it to me and I’ll assemble it,’ so again, it’s very positive and a willing spirit that we see,” he said.
If you wish to help out, call (423) 439- 6633 or send an email to THIS address.
In the event that healthcare workers do end up utilizing the preparedness plan and stay on campus, Ross explained that there are still hundreds of ETSU students living on campus in other dormatories.
“In this scenario, students would not live with any first responders or healthcare workers,” Ross said. “There’s been a very clear separation, and very clear procedures for both Ballad and Washington County (EMS) on how linens, showers, things of this sort would take place to protect those workers as well as those on campus.”
Spring breakers who still have personal belongings stored on campus needn’t worry about the safety of their property, according to Ross, campus security performs daily “walk-throughs” and camera patrols of the residence halls that remain under lock and key until it is safe for students to retrieve their belongings.
The Washington County Emergency Services and Ballad health are also involved in this preparedness plan. Ballad officials told News Channel 11 that the topic will be discussed at the health service’s Tuesday morning media briefing.