During a press conference Wednesday, Ballad Health officials announced 331 COVID-19 patients were in the system’s hospitals. That is an increase of 50 patients over the last seven days.
Health system officials said they expect the numbers to keep going up as the rate of people vaccinated against the virus in this region remains relatively low.
Eleven of those 331 COVID-19 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday were children. Six of those children were in the ICU at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.
Out of the 331 patients hospitalized, 93% were unvaccinated, according to Ballad Health.
As of Wednesday, the health care system had 77 COVID-19 patients in the ICU and 48 COVID-19 patients on ventilators.
Ninety-six percent of the COVID-19 patients in intensive care were unvaccinated, and 98% of the COVID-19 patients on ventilators were unvaccinated.
COVID-19 patients now make up about 27.6% of the approximately 1,200 patients currently hospitalized in the Ballad Health system.
“There is not a lot I can stand up here and say anymore,” Ballad Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift said. “The only way to get this to end is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
The percentage of people fully vaccinated in the Ballad Health service area is 39.7%.
Ballad officials expect COVID-19 hospitalizations to continue increasing.
“Our projections show that we will be between 375 to 450 inpatients next week and between 392 to 470 the following week,” Ballad Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton said. “We do, unfortunately, expect a continued growth in the number of deaths we’re seeing each week.”
There were 49 COVID-19 deaths in the Ballad Health service area in the last seven days.
According to Deaton, the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests for the Ballad service area now stands at 20%, which is above the Tennessee state average of 18.3%. Ballad’s target positivity rate is 5%.
Ballad has been utilizing monoclonal antibodies in fighting the virus in its patients.
“We’ve been giving monoclonal antibody infusions since December 2020, under an FDA Emergency Use Authorization,” Swift said. “Monoclonal antibodies are an incredibly promising treatment for COVID-19, especially if they are administered early.”
According to Swift, monoclonal antibodies are most effective if they are administered within the first 10 days of a COVID-19 infection.
“Since December 2020, Ballad Health has administered 1,538 doses of monoclonal antibody treatment. This last week was the highest number of doses, at 204. That continues to grow week over week,” Deaton said. “It’s a very effective therapy.”
Ballad is now making preparations to stretch space as much as possible as hospitals are pushed further past capacity.
According to Deaton, if Ballad’s patient load grows much greater than the current 1,200 patients, the system will make more adjustments to create space. Ballad currently has 300 unstaffed beds that could be used if patients continue to fill the hospitals. However, since there is not enough staff to care for the people in those beds, those beds would have to be set up in a type of large ward with large numbers of patients in one room and one or two nurses caring for all of them.
“That is not ideal, but we will continue to care for everyone we can, and we will continue to push to take care of everyone, but there are limits to everything,” Deaton said.
Ballad is in the process of requesting more help from the National Guard, after already receiving assistance last month.
According to Swift, the state of Tennessee has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 children out of every state in the U.S.
“The Delta variant is hitting kids more, and it’s hitting them harder. And this virus has to be devastating for these children who I work with every day,” said Dr. Myesa Emberesh of Niswonger Children’s Hospital, who works with the St. Jude Tri-Cities affiliate clinic.
The children Emberesh works with are especially vulnerable to the virus as they battle cancer.
“Unfortunately, we had the first immunocompromised child with COVID-19 in my St. Jude clinic last week. Many of these children are younger than 12 and don’t qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine. They are some of the most vulnerable people in our region. I don’t want to see COVID-19 rip through the bodies of these kids with cancer.” said Emberesh. “I don’t want to see them gasping for breath or managing long-haul symptoms on top of their adverse events from chemotherapy. But every day, we see ourselves inch closer to that reality.”
Emberesh said the most effective way to protect children in the community is for people to get vaccinated and wear masks.
“So, let us all work together to protect our children and surround them with a vaccinated community,” Emberesh said.
Emberesh also emphasized the urgency of getting vaccinated and wearing masks to prevent further spread and mutation of the virus.
“The science is clear and indisputable. Masks work. Vaccines work,” Emberesh said. “And the more we allow this virus to spread, the smarter it will get. The more this virus mutates, the longer we will be at war with it. The longer we are in this fight, the more lives will be put at risk.”