Ballad Health officials address declining COVID-19 trends, changes in state data reporting

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Cautious optimism underlined Ballad Health’s weekly health report on Wednesday as officials noted downward trends in some key COVID-19 data across the health system.

Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift started the briefing by noting a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations within the Ballad Health system.

She punctuated the news by cautioning the general public against complacency – while she and other officials expressed optimism at the current trends, she said it falls on consistent hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing practices from the public to continue the declining trends.

As of Wednesday, officials reported that 92 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, with 13 of those patients receiving treatment in the intensive care unit and 11 on ventilators.

With flu season approaching, Swift said those precautions are more important than ever. Influenza is responsible for 30,000 to 60,000 deaths in the country each year, Swift said, and coupled with COVID-19 could jeopardize hospital capacity.

“If we experience a severe flu season in conjunction with our ongoing pandemic, our health system, our healthcare workers could become overburdened very quickly,” she said.

Flu shots, she continued, will serve an important role this year, adding that members of the public should get their annual flu shot before “heavy circulation” of the virus kicks in at the end of the year.

Habits developed by the public could even curb the spread of the flu, Swift said, if members of the public remain persistent in wearing masks in public, washing their hands and keeping a safe distance from others.

Changes in state reporting

The Tennessee Department of Health reported changing in their data reporting methods last week that sparked a sharp decline in active COVID-19 cases in the region.

The department reported that inactive cases (formerly labled as “recoveries” by the department) would be classified as such after 14 days from the onset of infection once symptoms subside in a patient.

Previously, the department marked a case as a recovery/inactive 21 days after the first day of symptoms.

Swift stressed that reporting from the health department is accurate, and the changes in reporting were sparked by changes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The change in terminology from “recovery” to inactive” is to more accurately represent patients in this category, Swift said. The term “recovery” implies that the ill person is well even if they are no longer contagious, she said.

“It really becomes not that they’re recovered and well, but we’re focusing on who’s still infectious and within that active period,” she explained. “They’re all still cases. It really is at what point do they become less infectious?”

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