Record COVID hospitalization numbers reported as new month begins

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – State health departments reported 45 new COVID-19 hospitalizations in News Channel 11’s 15-county viewing area Tuesday, exceeding the previous single-day high by more than 50 percent.

In Northeast Tennessee, the 385 new hospitalizations recorded since Nov. 1 accounts for a hugely disproportionate share of Tennessee’s total hospitalizations during that time.

The seven-county region has 7.5 percent of the state’s people but has accounted for 20.2 percent of hospitalizations the past month — 2.7 times its share of the population.

The news from the Tennessee (TDH) and Virginia (VDH) departments of health came as the region’s main hospital system reported a second straight record of hospitalized COVID patients. Ballad Health has 287 COVID patients currently in its facilities — up 10 percent from Monday’s 260, which was a record.

TDH reported a single-day high of 35 new hospitalizations in Northeast Tennessee, including 21 in Sullivan County. News Channel 11 reports trends to provide greater context as single-day numbers can fluctuate and all three main numbers reported — new cases, hospitalizations and deaths — experience some lag due to testing turnaround times and reporting.

Note: TDH defines new hospitalizations as “any newly identified cases that have indicated being hospitalized due to COVID-19 at any time during the pandemic.” The agency notes lags in investigation and data entry mean the daily reports don’t reflect current number of hospitalizations as reported directly by hospitals into the Healthcare Resources Tracking System.

Southwest Virginia reported 10 new hospitalizations, which equaled its second-highest single-day total.

Regionwide, the trend of new reported hospitalizations has increased steadily since mid-October.

The 14-day average stood at 6.71 new daily hospitalizations on Oct. 18. It reached 11.73 on Nov. 1. Tuesday’s average of 19.93 is a new high and is triple the average of six weeks ago.

Dr. Sheri Holmes is a professor at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine and the chief medical officer of ETSU Health. She told News Channel 11 Monday that first responders hospitals have been handling the rising numbers, but not without extreme difficulty.

“Just because hospitals have beds doesn’t mean they have nurses to staff those beds, and that’s what we’re seeing in the labor force right now,” Holmes said.

She said that also includes respiratory therapists and others who provide patient care at hospitals and outpatient clinics.

“There’s illness, quarantine, isolation within those communities of people also, which is affecting the number of people available to staff. Having an empty bed doesn’t help if you don’t have people to staff that bed.”

Holmes said it can be difficult for people to understand the level of social distancing and mask-wearing that’s required “to really get a handle on this.”

She said while some people say it’s reactive or alarmist to call for high levels of caution, she’s not sure what it will take to spur habits that can bend the curve of new cases downward.

The region has been in a tight band since Nov. 16 with respect to the 14-day average of new daily cases. That figure has bounced between 388 and 412 new daily cases and was at 405 Tuesday and represents a community spread rate of 53.8 new daily cases per 100,000 population.

“I don’t know what it’s gonna take,” Holmes said. “You know, some surge plan that has us taking care of patients in the minidome, or something like that, yes I think that would definitely get a lot of attention.

“If it gets to (that) point … then I think that will be a real eye-opener for people. Hopefully we won’t get to that point.”

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