More than half of Greene County’s adult population is at risk for poorer outcomes if they contract COVID-19 due to having underlying medical conditions, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

According to the CDC data, 56.3% of adults in Greene County had been diagnosed by a medical professional as having such conditions as heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or a lung disease in 2018, and a recent update by the agency of data about COVID deaths indicates 94% of the people who have died from the virus have had one of these or similar underlying conditions.

That report was addressed Wednesday by Ballad Health officials as they continue to urge the public to be vigilant in taking precautions to prevent contracting the illness.

Wednesday also brought the report of another death in Greene County due to the coronavirus, according to the daily COVID-19 report from the Tennessee Department of Health. Seventeen people locally have died from the illness during the pandemic.

Greene County had 13 new cases of the virus reported on Wednesday by the state Department of Health. There are 539 people with active cases of the virus currently, down five from Tuesday according to the report, and 301 locally who are defined as recovered by the state, up 17 from the previous day.

“This is a serious threat to all of us,” said Jamie Swift, chief infection officer for Ballad Health. “We continue to talk about that and reiterate that because this can truly affect everyone.”

With the release of the CDC report, there can be a misinterpretation that the deaths are elderly, critically ill who are dying, and COVID-19 is not what caused their deaths, Swift said.

“That is simply not true,” she said. “These are deaths that are preventable. If these people had not gotten COVID-19, the expectation is that they would still be alive today.”

“If we stop and think, the health of many of us, especially in our Appalachian Highlands regions, would put us in that 94%. … If you have asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, migraines, epilepsy, heart disease and there is a host of other conditions that would put you in that 94%. If you have a few pounds to lose, like many of us, or your body mass index is not in the normal range, you are in the 94%. We live with our health conditions, and we might think that ‘my blood pressure is fine,’ but if you are controlling that with medication, then you have that comorbidity.”

Swift asked people to think about what they share on social media and make sure it is from a verifiable, reliable source because it can negatively affect others including the medical professionals “who are fighting COVID with everything we have got.”

CDC STUDY

Dr. Clay Runnels, Ballad Health’s chief physician executive, also spoke about the CDC report, stating that the data should not be interpreted that people who died were elderly, infirm or in poor health and their cause of death was from something other than COVID-19.

When physicians are asked to fill out a certificate of death, they are asked to not only fill out the cause of death, but contributing factors, he continued. The CDC data indicates a large number of patients had such things as pneumonia, respiratory distress or respiratory arrest listed as contributing factors, all of which are directly related to the COVID-19 infection.

The underlying health conditions mentioned in the study included obesity, which is an issue in this region as well as nationally, Runnels said.

“Thirty percent of the adult population in this region is in the obese category or one in three adults,” he said. “Additionally, 22% of our school children in Tennessee are obese and 16% are overweight. That statement is not designed to shame or scare anyone, but it is important to remember obesity is considered a chronic health condition and it is a driver of some of these other comorbidities … and for poorer outcomes from COVID-19.”

It is also important to remember that the CDC statistics are about deaths, but anyone can also get seriously ill from the disease and survive, the physician continued.

“This is a great time to think about your health,” he said. “I encourage you to look at healthy choices in your lifestyle including healthy food and plenty of exercise. These are always important things, but particularly during the pandemic.”

HOSPITALIZATIONS

One more person from Greene County is hospitalized with the virus, and is one of 100 people who were receiving hospital care in a Ballad Health facility for the virus on Wednesday, according to the health system.

Twenty people are hospitalized with symptoms of the virus but are awaiting test results. There are 19 people with the virus in intensive care units and 13 of those are on ventilators, according to Ballad Health. Thirty-seven beds designated for care of virus patients remain open.

The occupancy of the hospital system in its medical care unit beds was at 93.1% on Wednesday, and the ICU units were at 91.3%, Swift reported.

The positivity rate among those tested for the virus has been trending up for a few days after going down for several days, Swift said. Ballad Health tracks that number as an indicator to predict future hospitalizations from the virus since it often takes eight to 10 days after a person gets sick before they are hospitalized.

A lower positivity rate helps the health system handle COVID-19 cases along with providing other medical care for patients, while a higher positivity rate is a concern, she said.

EXPRESSING GRATITUDE

The officials also thanked the medical care staff who are working on the front line. Deaton said he was amazed at what they do on a daily basis under such conditions as wearing not only a mask but a face shield and other protective clothing to care for patients.

“We can’t thank them enough for the hard work they are doing,” Runnels said.

The Ballad Health officials also expressed appreciation for the public increasingly taking such measures as wearing masks and other facial coverings and social distancing.

Eric Deaton, Ballad Health’s chief operating officer and head of its emergency COVID response team, said that he is seeing more people wearing masks and social distancing than he did in early July, which has contributed to the downward trends.

“As one of our CEOS said recently, just because we are seeing a positive trend, this is not the time to slow down,” he said. “We should double down on what we are doing and really focus on, time and time again, doing the right thing. If we continue to do this, we will continue to see a positive trend.”

Deaton also thanked local county mayors for extending mask mandates, which have helped bring a downward trend in new cases after the orders were put into place.

Wearing masks will probably be a measure people will need to take until there is a vaccine widely available.

Swift echoed those sentiments. “More than ever, we need to you wear your mask, wash your hands, physically distance and in the next couple of months, get your flu shot,” she said.

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