TRI-CITIES (WJHL) – Ballad Health officials say the number of COVID-19 patients being treated at its hospitals continues to rise, which has led the system to once again issue its weekly COVID-19 data reports. The first report since April 2022 was sent out on Friday, Aug. 12.

New numbers confirmed by Ballad Health Monday show even further increases since Friday’s data.

As of August 15, the healthcare system reports:

  • 168 people are hospitalized for treatment of the virus (An increase of 13 since Friday’s report)
  • 25 patients are in the intensive care unit (An increase of 8)
  • 9 ICU patients are on a ventilator (An increase of 2)
  • 4 pediatric inpatients at Niswonger Children’s Hospital

“We are definitely in the middle of a surge,” said Jamie Swift, Chief Infection Prevention Officer for Ballad Health.

The rise in cases and hospitalizations is driven by the BA.5 variant, which Swift describes as highly contagious and infectious. She calls this a time of ‘high community spread’ in the region.

“We don’t see a significant drop in the next little bit, but we are hoping maybe we can be near the peak and plateau for a bit before we come down,” said Swift.

The last time Ballad saw a similar surge in hospitalizations was on March 10, 2022, when 172 patients were being treated for COVID.

Medical professionals stress at this stage in the pandemic, COVID vaccine boosters are needed.

“It’s really important to understand based on your age and your health factors how many doses you need. And if you are not up to date, go get that. That’s really the key still in preventing those severe illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths,” said Swift.

This comes as Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released ‘streamlined’ COVID mitigation guidance, doing away with several previous guidelines.

One guideline is that quarantine is no longer recommended for people who are exposed to COVID.

However, if anyone receives a positive virus test, regardless of vaccination status, the CDC says quarantine is still important.

“It’s really key to understand, CDC is still saying if you are positive you should isolate for five days at least. You should continue to mask for days 6-10,” Swift said.

While Ballad is not cutting any key services due to the surge in hospitalizations, Swift says staff feel the strain as they care for an increasing number of COVID patients.

“We are still in the middle of a nursing shortage nationally, not just at Ballad. Certainly, we feel the impacts of that,” said Swift.

The CDC also relaxed guidelines for school children; no longer recommending routine testing or quarantines for exposure. Agency officials recommend mask-wearing only if community transmission is deemed “high.”

“The main thing for parents to consider, and for people to consider in general, is make sure your vaccination status is fully up to date,” said Dr. Christina Johns, a pediatric emergency care physician.

Johns finds the relaxing of guidelines by the CDC surprising.

“The timing might not be exactly right,” she said, describing the unpredictability of new COVID variants.

She calls it a shift to individual responsibility and says for young children, she wants parents to know she considers the vaccine for kids to be highly effective, safe and the best line of defense as children go back to school.

Dr. Johns encourages parents to seek advice from pediatricians and doctors, rather than from social media, about vaccinating their kids against COVID.

“And most of all, for parents, when your children are sick and not feeling well, don’t send them to school. Keep them home,” said Johns.