TRI-CITIES, Tenn. & Va. (WJHL) — More patients and fewer nurses.

Across its system, Ballad Health has roughly 3,500 nurses, but that is not enough to combat COVID-19, according to its health officials.

Ballad Health facilities describe the state we are in as a “tragedy”, as its health care workers continue to be spread thin.

Northeast Tennessee’s COVID-19 percentage rate sits at around 16%, which is higher than the state average. This is now prompting the health care system to increase its surge plan. All while a nursing shortage continues to increase.

“There are no longer enough nurses to fill the need that we have,” Ballad Health Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Lisa Smithgall said.

It is a nursing shortage that Ballad Health was facing before COVID-19 hit the Tri-Cities. The onset of the pandemic stopped the hiring process and led to the adjusting shift duties for registered nurses.

“Nurses who have already been pushed are now being asked to work in increasingly challenging situations,” Smithgall said. “In addition, we have more patients and less nurses.”

Ballad Health officials said community members shouldn’t disregard mask mandates. Health professionals wear masks for an average of 12 hours daily.

“I ask you to really think about that when you don’t want to wear a mask for that 20-minute trip to the store, or when you’re interacting with people who don’t live in your house. It’s really important that you wear a mask,” Smithgall said.

The number for new patients per day continues to go up.

Ballad Health Chief Administrative Officer Eric Deaton said: “In the last 8 weeks, we’ve had more than 900 patients admitted to COVID-19. Yesterday was the second positivity rate that we’ve had since April, and just last week was the highest rate that we’ve had since April.”

The inpatients hit the 200 mark this week. The health care system adjusted its surge plan for 300 patients.

Deaton said: “These numbers represent lives, they’re non-encouraging. In fact, it’s really becoming a tragedy in the increased rates that we’re seeing.”

Meanwhile, the chief infection prevention officer, Jamie Swift adds that a negative test does not necessarily release you from quarantine.”

“The incubation can be up to 14 days. If you test on Day 5 of your quarantine and you’re negative, you very well could turn positive on Day 10 or Day 12,” Swift said.

Ballad Health has used 805 units of convalescent plasma to treat patients in our region. Officials hope those who have recovered from the virus will now consider donating.

Ballad Health is looking to hire 350 registered nurses to fill its nurse shortage. Eligible candidates can apply here.

Prospective donors can contact Marsh Regional Blood Center for an appointment.