Heavy harbinger: Regional COVID hospitalizations at record levels

Local Coronavirus Coverage

The 14-day average of new daily COVID hospitalizations in the 15-county Northeast Tennessee/Southwest Virginia area hit new highs this week.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – There was simply no favorable way to present the region’s COVID hospitalization trends on a Friday when the region’s dominant hospital system saw a record increase in COVID patients and Southwest Virginia saw a single-day record of new hospitalizations.

News Channel 11’s 15-county viewing area saw the 14-day average of new daily hospitalizations reach a new high for the seventh straight day Thursday. It hit 20 just two weeks after cresting 15 for the first time.

And that was before Friday, when 14 new hospitalizations reported in Southwest Virginia’s eight counties easily exceeded the previous one-day high of 10. The news was reported by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) at 9 a.m.

Two hours later, Ballad Health reported that its current census of hospitalized COVID patients had jumped from 209 to 239 since Thursday. That wasn’t a record, but it was the largest single-day increase and meant the net of new patients minus discharges or deaths was far higher than the previous high of 17 set Nov. 9.

The two-state region reached its single-day highs Wednesday with 29 recorded hospitalizations — the same day Northeast Tennessee recorded a record 26.

The average of 19.36 new daily hospitalizations over the past 14 days is more than 50 percent higher than the trend rate of Nov. 5, when Mt. Rogers Health District Director Dr. Karen Shelton expressed grave concern about area hospitals’ capacity.

“The most concerning thing for us right now is hospital capacity,” Shelton said at the time. “We need it so that people who have COVID don’t die from COVID, because we have a lot of great remedies now… People can do very well in the hospital setting.

“So how do we manage that so not only can we treat the COVID but we can treat all the emergencies that come in.”

Sullivan County was hit particularly hard this week, with 22 hospitalizations reported in a two-day period on Wednesday and Thanksgiving day.

Source: Tennessee department of health

The only relatively good news on the hospitalization front Friday came with the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) report. Just four new hospitalizations were reported in the seven-county area, the lowest total since Nov. 7.

The caveat with that number was that a very low number was reported statewide — just 31 new hospitalizations, with another seven counties showing adjustments downward of one each.

In Tennessee, Sullivan County has seen 107 new hospitalizations in the past 15 days alone — including 22 combined on Wednesday and Thursday. That’s almost have Northeast Tennessee’s total during the period.

In Southwest Virginia, Wise County recorded eight new hospitalizations on Friday alone. The county has been particularly hard-hit recently by an outbreak at Heritage Hall Nursing Home in Big Stone Gap.

That outbreak has grown to have the most cases (211) of any Virginia long-term care outbreak. Since the pandemic began.

With month’s end still three days away, the 15-county region has reported 459 new COVID hospitalizations this month. The previous single-month high of 305 was set in August.

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