When could the Tri-Cities see a peak in COVID-19 cases?


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Across Tennessee the total number of positive cases is more than 5,800. There have been 633 hospitalizations and 124 COVID-19 related deaths statewide.

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Models showing Tennessee’s expected peak range from the end of this week all the way into June. That answer on when the peak of the pandemic could be is also all over the place.

“It will probably be in the next week or two. That’s what most models are saying…maybe even this week. We just don’t know,” said Dr. Jonathan Moorman, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine and member of Gov. Bill Lee’s Coronavirus Task Force.

Dr. Stephen May with the Sullivan Co. Regional Health Department has a similar outlook.

“Our northeast region will probably be a week or so after the Tennessee state peak because we’re just a little bit behind Nashville and Memphis at this present time,” Dr. May said.

But Ballad Health’s CEO Alan Levine says peak resource use could be in the next six to eight weeks.

“We think we hit capacity sometime in the next 45-60 days and we remain convinced that based on what we’re currently seeing we’ve got the capacity both in terms of beds and staffing and ventilators,” Levine said during Ballad’s Tuesday press conference.

Levine says most models are too broad and difficult to draw conclusions from, which is why Ballad is conducting their own studies.

“We’re a rural area…we have a unique demographic,” Levine said. “We’re taking what we understand about our region and based on what we’re seeing today we believe we have the capacity to serve, whatever the surge will look like.”

SEE MORE: Ballad Health officials say announcement for COVID-19 research to be released this week

One of those models Levine is talking about is from from the University of Washington. It projects Tennessee’s state peak to happen on April 16th.

“We’re not going to have a true peak like you see- sharp and tall. I think it’s more likely we’ve flattened it considerably. But, it doesn’t mean we don’t have significant numbers and cases still,” Dr. Moorman said.

That Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model says the state’s peak for deaths per day already happened on April 13th with 20 deaths.

But the health department says only 15 deaths happened between Monday and Tuesday.

Tennessee Covid-19 related deaths on April 13th and 14th.

There is also a significant drop in the expected need of regular and ICU beds across the state. 

Overall projected resource use.

And a model from Vanderbilt expects the peak to be in Mid-May or June.

Vanderbilt’s model

So what should you believe?

“A model is only as good as what you put into it. There’s a lot of data that we just don’t have to be able to put into it,” Moorman said. “It’s just a model…even if we have those answers-it’s not gospel and we really don’t know.” 

Dr. Moorman says we don’t know what total isolation or complete business shut down would look like. But, what does go into the model is information like statewide deaths, regulations, capability to handle cases and how much testing is being accomplished.

That is part of the reason behind Gov. Bill Lee’s push for increased testing to provide more area specific information.

“You’ll be hearing those calls to ramp up testing to really get a good idea where in the state we’re having problems so we can maybe focus on those areas and where we’re not having problems where we might want to start opening up,” Moorman said.

Moorman also applauded the governor for the actions he is taking with Stay at Home orders and soon-to-be plan to phase the economy back up.

“You could say ‘Well, we’re overreacting’ but you could also say ‘Well, we’ve really done the right thing to really prevent a lot of deaths,'” Moorman said. “And isn’t that really great in East Tennessee?”

The governor’s Coronavirus Task Force also learned about new upcoming models from Vanderbilt and The University of Tennessee. They expect that information to be available to them in the next week or so according to Moorman.

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