Ballad Health briefing

In this screenshot, Ballad Health Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton shows a graph illustrating the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 in the region during a briefing Wednesday.

The percentage of positive results among people tested for the coronavirus is rising across the region, Ballad Health officials said Wednesday.

In the past few weeks, as the health care system has tested hundreds of people a day, the percentage of positive results among those being tested has increased from between 1% and 2% to 7%, said Eric Deaton, chief operating officer for Ballad Health.

Meanwhile, the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 has increased by 20 in a week in facilities that are part of the Ballad Health system.

With that increase, Ballad Health officials continued to ask people to continue take precautions such as social distancing and wearing facial coverings when they are out in public to reduce the spread of the virus.

“We are planning for the worst case scenario but hoping for the best case scenario,” Eric Deaton, chief operating officer for Ballad Health, said Wednesday. “That is why we are stressing that this has to be a community effort. It can’t be just Ballad Health by itself. We all have to come together to do the right thing and care for each other.”

Deaton, who is leading Ballad Health’s response to the pandemic said that wearing masks, “the things we are asking people to do, are how we care for each other. We have to really embrace that. This is not a political issue, it is just us looking out for each other.”

Currently, there are 90 patients being treated for the coronavirus within Ballad Health facilities, he said. The health system reported 70 people hospitalized with the virus on June 22.

Twenty-three people currently hospitalized are in an intensive care unit with 17 of those on a ventilator, Deaton reported. Fourteen more people are hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms and are awaiting test results.

At least one of those people hospitalized is from Greene County. According to Wednesday’s report from the Tennessee Department of Health, one new person from Greene County was hospitalized within the previous 24 hours. A total of 20 people locally have been hospitalized since the pandemic began.

Sixteen new cases were recorded in Greene County, according to the state report, bringing the number of cases up to 316 for the pandemic. There are 184 people with active cases of the virus, up 10 from Tuesday. The number of people listed as recovered has increased by six to 127.

In Ballad Health’s service area in Northeast Tennessee, 132 new cases were reported on Wednesday with the largest jump in Washington County at 54. Within the eight-county area, there are 1,212 active cases currently.

Tennessee now has topped the 100,000 mark of coronavirus cases with a total of 100,822 recorded in the pandemic. New cases reported Wednesday totaled 1,778. Twenty-one more people have died in the state bringing the death toll above 1,000, according to report.

Officials said the system is closely monitoring the numbers to prepare for rising numbers that models show will occur if there is a low level of people adhering to guidelines for social distancing and wearing facial coverings.

TESTING DELAYS

In the past few weeks, Ballad Health has seen testing levels of over 800 people in a day, Deaton said.

Delays in getting results have grown due to the surge of testing not just in this region, but across the nation, he said. Currently, it can take to up to two weeks to get results.

The laboratory that Ballad Health is using has a 99% accuracy rate on its tests, Deaton said.

While Ballad Health uses outside laboratories for testing, it does have some in-house testing capabilities, but due to the limited supply of the test kits the system is able to receive, those are reserved for emergency situations or surgical patients, he said.

Deaton explained that the test kits are distributed nationally based on the number of cases a region is experiencing, so hospitals in places such as Texas and Arizona are receiving more.

The need for donations of plasma by people who have recovered from the virus is growing with the additional hospitalizations, said Dr. Clay Runnels, Ballad Health’s chief physician executive.

Giving patients with the virus convalescent plasma has shown to be an effective treatment, he said.

“By giving your plasma, you could completely change someone’s life,” he said.

He encouraged people who have recovered from the coronavirus to call the Marsh Regional Blood Center at 423-230-5640 to see if they are eligible to give.

A free antibody test is being conducted on all blood given through Marsh to determine if a donor has had the virus. This can be helpful in providing information on how prevalent the virus is in the region, Runnels said.

A need also exists for blood donations, he added.

SURGE PLANS

Ballad Health looks at patient counts three times a day as part of its monitoring of facility capacity and needs as part of its surge planning process, Deaton said.

Using data about positive test results in the region, Ballad Health continues to update its models predicting the number of hospitalizations.

With a majority of people practicing the recommended precautions to limit the spread, hospitalizations may stay around the current 100-patient level at the end of next month, he said.

However, if there is a low level of adherence to the recommended precautions, hospitalizations may reach 300 to 350 by early September, Deaton cautioned.

Thus far, most patients who have been hospitalized in the region with the virus reach a need for that level of care between seven and 14 days after starting to experience symptoms, Ballad Health officials have explained. Health officials state that symptoms may not appear for two to several days after exposure.

Currently, the system is operating in an initial phase of its surge plan with around 150 beds available for coronavirus patients. If hospitalizations continue to increase and approach capacity, the system will move to its next phase to providing 200 to 250 beds, Deaton said.

If the number of people in the hospital with coronavirus continues to grow from that point above 250, the system will have to consider suspending non-emergency and elective surgeries to provide for more bed capacity in its facilities, he said.

Supplies of personal protective equipment for direct care providers are plentiful at this point, and the supply chain is strong, he said.

Almost all of the direct care staff members who were furloughed earlier this year due to the pandemic have been called back to work, Deaton said. About 75% of those furloughed have returned to work.

There are also positions open for direct care workers. Lisa Smithgall, chief nursing executive, said those openings can be found by visiting the Ballad Health website.

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