Alan Levine conference

Ballad Health Executive Chairman, President and CEO Alan Levine spoke with media Tuesday to provide updates about the healthcare system’s preparedness for treating the coronavirus.

Greene County has its fifth confirmed case of coronavirus, and Tusculum University has announced that five of its students have tested positive for the virus.

The new case was reported as part of the daily update provided by the Tennessee Department of Health about confirmed cases statewide Tuesday afternoon.

In the region, the Greene County case was the second new one reported by the State Department of Health. An additional case was reported in Washington County.

Tusculum University released a statement Tuesday evening that it had learned that “five students of ours have tested positive for the coronavirus. None of these students has been on the campus for several days. We are heartened the initial reports we have received indicate students are doing well.”

It is not clear if the five Tusculum students cases account for all the Greene County cases. At least three have been confirmed to be.

Tusculum has closed its residence halls. The statement said that with the amount of time since students have left campus, the university encourages its students, faculty and staff to continue precautions to reduce their risk and to continue to practice social distancing.

Earlier in the day, Ballad Health officials had reported 14 confirmed cases in the region it serves. This was prior to the state’s daily update and included the previously known four cases in Greene County and six in Washington County as well as two in Sullivan County and two in Lee County in Southwest Virginia.

According to the State Department of Health report, there were 667 confirmed cases of the virus in Tennessee as of Tuesday afternoon, with two deaths reported thus far. Davidson County, which includes Nashville, has the most cases, 183. Shelby County, which includes Memphis and other small municipalities, has seen a large increase in cases in recent days with 99 now recorded.

Health officials have indicated that the number of confirmed cases may go up as more people are tested and more tests become available and sites are opened.

Ballad Health officials reported Tuesday that the system is making strides toward have on-site analysis of tests at two facilities, accelerating the turnaround for results.

Several testing sites are now open in Northeast Tennessee. Current testing locations include Greeneville Community Hospital East locally as well as East Tennessee State University Health and Franklin Woods Community Hawkins County Memorial and Indian Path Community hospitals in the region, according to the Tennessee State Department of Health website.

In a media briefing Tuesday, Ballad Health Executive Chairman, President and CEO Alan Levine said equipment should be installed and adaptations made to the labs at Johnson City and Holston Valley medical centers in the next few weeks to be able to analyze tests to determine whether individuals have the coronavirus.

“We will have the capacity to do 50 tests per facility once we get the equipment in place,” Levine said. “Once it is up and running, this equipment will allow us to have a turnaround time of several hours for results rather than the five to seven days as we are currently seeing.”

Tests conducted locally or in the region by either Ballad Health or other facilities have been sent to the labs through the State Department of Health or private labs for analysis.

Levine thanked ETSU Health, Holston Medical Group and physicians groups who have been testing in addition to Ballad Health facilities, which has helped make the testing process manageable for all.

“Community support has been really phenomenal since this began,” Levine said.

Streamworks, an educational organization in Kingsport, is to use its 3-D printer to product face shields for Ballad Health facilities, for example, he said.

Using plastic donated by Eastman, Streamworks will be able to produce about 500 face shields a day, Levine said. Ballad Health has also purchased two more 3-D printers for Streamworks to use.

In addition, the state has directed ETSU to use its 3-D printing capabilities to produce face shields, and Ballad Health will most likely receive some of them, he said.

Community response to requests for blood donations has been tremendous, Levine said.

“As a system, we were at a critical level in our blood supplies about a week ago,” he continued. “When we put out the call for blood donations, people have responded. We are not where we want to be in regards to the supply but things are definitely better than they were for the whole region.”

With the postponement of elective surgical procedures instituted last week by Ballad Health, facilities throughout the system have capacity to treat coronavirus cases as they arise, Levine said.

“Our ICU (intensive care unit) capacity is as good as it has ever been,” he said. Systemwide, there are 276 ICU beds with 62 available now, he added.

In the most serious cases of coronavirus, patients may have difficulty breathing or the illness may result in pneumonia. To treat those cases, Ballad Health has 156 ventilators and 27 pediatric ventilators currently available, he said.

There are also 130 older ventilators in stock that can be used if necessary and 61 ventilators used for transport that could also be utilized, Levine said. “From a capacity standpoint, we are in good shape with the ventilators.”

Eric Deaton, chief operating officer for Ballad Health, thanked the public for its efforts thus far to take precautions to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. He encouraged that people remain vigilant in washing their hands frequently, staying at home when possible and social distancing when they go out.

Limiting the spread of the virus will make the cases that do require treatment and hospitalization more manageable for the health system as it also balances providing other needed medical care, and would not overwhelm the system as a large spike in cases would, according to Ballad Health officials.

Most people who contract COVID-19 will become only mildly or moderately ill, according to health experts. However, for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, it can cause serious illness and can be fatal.

Ballad Health asks anyone concerned they may have the virus to call the system’s Nurse Connect line at (833) 822-5523 to be screened for possible testing. The line is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Levine said that 7,500 calls have been received to the Nurse Connect line.