Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are now doubling in Ballad Health System facilities in the region from week to week, and its officials are calling for renewed vigilance in measures to stem the spread of the virus.
Greene County had 15 new cases of the virus on Friday, according to the Tennessee Department of Health, the largest daily jump since the pandemic began. There were 29 patients with the coronavirus hospitalized Friday in Ballad Health facilities in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, and that number has been increasing daily, according to the health system.
“Not only do we want to share that COVID-19 is spreading, but we are on the brink in this area of the pandemic becoming much worse,” said Jamie Swift, corporate director for infection prevention for Ballad Health.
The virus is spreading rapidly in various groups, and no longer is just in clusters or large groups of people that can be identified and the spread limited, Swift continued.
“We are seeing lots of community spread in various groups,” she said. “There is a risk of COVID anywhere you go.”
“We want to remind people that this is not something that Ballad Health or other medical providers can fight alone,” Swift continued. “This is not a battle we can fight and win on our own. We need the community to really band together and take the measures we need to get back in front of this virus and slow the spread down.”
Greene County has had 138 cases of coronavirus since late March, according to the state Department of Health. There are 44 active cases in Greene County. Ninety-two people have recovered from the illness, according to the state. Two people locally have died from the coronavirus.
In surrounding counties, active coronavirus case totals include Washington with 91, Sullivan with 76, Cocke with 75, Carter with 33 and Hawkins with 28. Counties with some of the highest active cases in East Tennessee are Hamilton (Chattanooga) with 1,133, Knox with 847, Sevier with 307 and Hamblen with 220.
The state Health Department reported 1,955 new cases statewide on Friday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 59,546. The agency reported 13 new virus-related deaths, bringing that total to 723.
Nationwide, around 136,000 people have died from COVID-19.
In response to the local increases, plans are in development for taking new precautionary measures for Greene County governmental offices, particularly those at the Greene County Courthouse Annex, according to Mayor Kevin Morrison. The offices in the Annex will not be closing to the public, he said.
The town of Greeneville will be returning to Phase I of its reopening plan on Monday, the most restrictive phase, which will result in the closing of Town Hall to the public.
While local governments can give recommendations to local businesses, the shutdown of various types of businesses as occurred at the beginning the pandemic is under the authority of the state through executive orders from the governor.
The region is experiencing its highest numbers of cases, and the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus is doubling every week now, according to Ballad Health Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton, who is also overseeing the system’s response efforts in the pandemic.
These hospitalizations are not just older individuals, he said, as those currently hospitalized with the coronavirus range from pediatric to elderly patients.
All types of people are now contracting the virus, Deaton said. They include those who have traveled, college students returning from other areas, employees of both small and large businesses, restaurant workers, athletes and non-athlete, he continued.
There have also been people contracting the virus who attended large gatherings, he said, and there have been some cases from churches.
An increase is also occurring in people who have the virus from an unknown source — those who have not been to large gatherings or around someone who has had the illness, Deaton said.
With the virus becoming this widespread, it is important for people to be vigilant in taking precautions, he continued.
“We need everyone, regardless of your feelings, to wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands frequently,” Deaton said. “Ignoring what is happening is not going to make it go away, it will only make it worse.”
If virus cases increase at the current rate, Ballad Health will soon have more than 100 patients with the virus in hospitals across its system, a situation that would stress the health system’s capacity, he said.
About a dozen of the patients currently hospitalized with the illness are in intensive care units, and the unit dedicated to care of COVID patients at the Johnson City Medical Center is at capacity, Deaton said. There are about 125 beds available in units designated for coronavirus cases.
While the hospital has plans for a surge in cases, continued increases in coronavirus hospitalizations would result in measures to increase capacity in facilities through such measures as suspending elective surgical procedures or re-implementing more restrictive visitation measures, he said.
Those plans also include using Greene County Community Hospital West (formerly Takoma Regional Hospital) and Lonesome Pine Hospital in Southwest Virginia to care for less serious cases if needed with the people most ill with COVID-19 cared for at JCMC, Holston Valley Medical Center and Bristol Regional Hospital.
The system continues to have a strong supply of personal protective equipment and ventilators available, Deaton said.
Dr. Clay Runnels, chief physician executive for the health system, said that 5%-10% of people who contract the virus are expected to require hospital care, and as the number of cases increases, the system is monitoring its resource allocation.
It is important to try to limit the spread and number of cases before flu season starts in the fall, when people suffering from complications from the flu can also require hospitalization, Runnels said.
He was a baseball player in the early days of professional baseball, the first player to run all the bases in 14 seconds, and one of the most skilled base stealers to play the game.
He sometimes hung out with his Chicago White Stockings teammates in bars, but drank little. He was generally a quiet young man, friendly but not boisterous.
When Billy Sunday became a convert to Christianity after hearing preaching and singing going on outside a rescue mission, he gave up baseball and took a big pay cut to become a preacher, first as a YMCA employee, then as a traveling evangelist. In the latter role he would gain far more fame than he had as an athlete, and pioneer evangelistic techniques and approaches that continue to be used today, long after his death.
The pulpit style he developed was not likely to appeal to highbrows, but that concerned him little. He declared his audience to be working class people. He deliberately couched his spiritual appeals in language simple enough that, he declared, no man coming to hear him needed to pick up a dictionary to understand what he was saying.
His first sermon as an evangelist occurred in Chicago’s Farwell Hall, home of the city’s YMCA. His fame as an athlete lent enough gravitas to his beginning foray into preaching that he received newspaper coverage.
“Center fielder Billy Sunday made a three-base hit at Farwell Hall last night,” the paper reported. “There is no other way to express the success of his first appearance as an evangelist in Chicago. His audience was made up of about 500 men who didn’t know much about his talents as a preacher but could remember his galloping to second base with his cap in hand.”
He employed preaching techniques that few would even attempt today, unless they possessed extraordinary strength, showmanship and dexterity. He preached with his entire body, leaping, dropping, rolling, climbing up on furniture, smashing chairs, strutting, boxing the air, even going through the motions of sliding into base in front of his audience, preaching all the while.
Despite being controversial because of his bombastic, theatrical, even athletic preaching style, and even though he vehemently opposed liquor and beer in Chicago, a city of clubs and speakeasies, he forever dodged any major career scandals such as those that brought down other famous preachers in later decades.
He is the only preacher name-checked in a song Frank Sinatra made famous: “Chicago, Chicago.” The song includes a line describing Chicago as “the town that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down,” a reference to Sunday’s famous anti-alcohol crusading.
Whatever anyone thinks of Billy Sunday, he is one of those historical figures that should be known by modern Americans even if only for the sake of so-called “cultural literacy.” The man had an impact on this nation’s history and culture and was known everywhere during his time.
William Ashley “Billy” Sunday was born in Iowa during the Civil War to an impoverished couple. He never knew his father, who died of pneumonia in a military camp when Billy was five months old. Billy’s mother eventually had to put her children into an orphanage because she could not provide sufficiently for them.
It is possible that the difficulties his mother experienced contributed to his sensitivity to the hardships of families absent a father (either physically or emotionally), though he would typically focus on families in which the damaging agent was a hard-drinking father, not a deceased one as had been the case in his own life.
Billy Sunday being most active in the years leading up to Prohibition, an anti-alcohol stance fit not only his personal persuasions, but also the mood of a large swath of the American population. He vigorously campaigned against the nation’s “liquor interests,” usually with unrestrained rhetoric. For example, in one sermon he called liquor a “rattlesnake that wriggled its miserable carcass out of hell, where there was a jubilee when lager beer was invented.” Of the “liquor trade,” Sunday said, “I’ll fight them until hell freezes over than I’ll buy a pair of skates and fight them on ice.”
He was, unsurprisingly, an advocate of the Temperance and Prohibition movements, and is credited as helping bring the latter about. The Prohibition years came to an end only a short time before Sunday did.
His theology was, for the most part, grassroots fundamentalism, but he possessed the capacity to surprise. At a time many Protestant fundamentalists held harsh views toward Catholicism, Sunday viewed Catholics as fellow Christians. He advocated against child labor and in favor of voting rights for women. Defying hostility when he preached in parts of the South, he included blacks in his services. He had a friendly attitude toward Jews as well.
He disliked the concept of evolution, but did not demand a fully literal interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis.
In one period similar to our own current situation, a series of evangelistic services Sunday was holding in Providence, R.I was shut down for three weeks by city officials early in 1919 due to the Spanish Flu Pandemic. Though Sunday initially was unhappy with this, he proved to have the capacity to change his views, saying: “We are always willing to help anything that is for the public good and do it cheerfully. There is nothing drastic in the (shutdown) order, and it is issued in an attempt to stamp out this epidemic.”
He was effective, and it is estimated that about 300,000 people made Christian professions at his services. His anti-alcohol stance was credited by industrial leaders in cities he visited with making their work forces more sober and productive after he left. City leaders saw such value in his visits that several, New York City included, built semi-permanent “tabernacles,” seating many thousands, to accommodate the massive crowds he attracted.
Naturally, he had detractors, some of them notable. Poet Carl Sandburg, a Unitarian highly offended by Sunday’s fundamentalism, even wrote a free-form poem directed at the man.
One part of the poem declares, “You (Sunday) come along. . . tearing your shirt ... yelling about Jesus. / Where do you get that stuff? / What the hell do you know about Jesus?”
A few lines later, Sandburg goes on to say, “this Jesus guy was good to look at, smelled good, listened good.” The famed poet does not reveal how he knew that Jesus “smelled good.”
Sunday himself would not have smelled good after a typical stint in the pulpit. He was so active he had to bathe and completely change clothes after each sermon.
Thanks to a few early film clips and YouTube, it still is possible to see and hear Billy Sunday sermonizing. From photographs and newspaper reports it is possible as well to get an idea of his pulpit antics and the size of the crowds he drew.
Billy Sunday’s messages and wild style certainly did not, and still would not, resonate with everyone, but his influence on our country’s cultural and religious life was impactful enough that his name even now should possess a reasonable degree of historical familiarity to Americans.
My dad was a preacher (one who would have broken in half had he attempted any of the physical stunts Sunday pulled off) and he had a biography of Sunday on his bookshelf. I remember going through it just to look at the old black-and-white photographs of Sunday in action.
Dad told me that Billy Sunday sometimes, if preaching in a tent rather than one of those temporary wooden “tabernacles,” would climb a tentpole, preaching all the way up and down.
I don’t think that old book had any photographs of the tentpole climbing, but I’ll take Dad’s word for it.
Sunday died in November of 1935 after preaching against his physician’s advice. He had suffered a mild heart attack weeks earlier. He never shut down Chicago, but neither has his own legacy vanished.
As back-to-school season approaches, both local school systems are working to finalize plans to continue educating students during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which forced both districts to close suddenly in March.
Both districts have now released draft plans for a safe return to school in August, and both school boards will approve final plans in July ahead of the first day back to school, which is scheduled for August 5 across all local public schools.
Both draft plans include tiered protocols and procedures for various aspects of school life from academic instruction to transportation and extracurricular activities.
Both directors of schools have announced plans to offer the option of a fully online program of study in the fall as surveys showed 18.44% of parents of Greene County Schools students and 12.8% of parents of Greeneville City Schools students indicated preference for distance learning for their children over having students return to school fully in-person or in a blended format.
Under both plans, parents are instructed to check their child’s temperature each day before school and keep the student at home if a temperature of 100.4 is discovered. Students who become ill at school will be quarantined, sent home and required to wear a mask until they can be taken off of school property.
The 24-page draft of Greeneville City Schools’ Framework for Safe Reopening of Schools, which was released online Wednesday, provides a framework for protocols to be followed based on the level of COVID-19 spread in the area.
Also published on the district’s website is a document on district-wide protocols including required use of face coverings for staff and use strongly encouraged for students, dedicated isolation areas in school clinics, health screenings and required face mask use for visitors to buildings, and assigned seating and required use of masks on school buses.
The bus transportation section of the document also indicates that alternative transportation to and from school will be encouraged if possible and assigned seating will be mandatory on buses, with the same students sitting next to each other every day if possible.
According to page 9 of the Framework for Safe Reopening of Schools document, schools will be open while there is an average rate of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of 0-6.99 in the last 14 days for a period of three consecutive days. This low rate of spread is defined as “no to minimal spread,” and protocols under these circumstances call for precautions such as having teachers to rotate instead of students when feasible and sending students who fall ill at school to be isolated in the nurse’s office with a mask until they can be taken home.
Students in pre-K through second grade will be encouraged to wear masks, but the district understands this may be difficult for the youngest students. For students in third through fifth grade, use of face masks will be encouraged when social distancing of 6 feet space between people is not possible. Students in sixth through 12th grade should wear a mask while inside the building unless extenuating circumstances such as medical exemption exist.
Protocols are to change if the spread is “minimal to moderate,” as defined as an average rate per 100,000 of 7-10.99 new cases in the same time period of 14 days for a period of three consecutive days.
Under these circumstances, Greeneville City Schools will consider a combination of in-person and online learning with students split into A/B groups and will cancel large-scale assemblies of more than 50 students.
If the rate of spread becomes substantial, as defined as an average rate per 100,000 of 11 or more new cases in the last 14 days for three consecutive days, a transition to online learning with school buildings closed will be considered.
Consideration of school closure will be based on consultation with public health partners.
There is a new survey on the Greeneville City Schools website for feedback on the draft. The survey closes Monday so that feedback submitted may be processed for consideration at the city school board’s called meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, where board members plan to discuss the draft.
To read the full Greeneville City Schools draft plan and provide feedback, go to www2.gcschools.net.
Final plans for Greeneville City Schools are scheduled to be released on July 20 and will be approved by the school board at its regularly scheduled meeting July 28.
Greene County Schools’ Framework for Returning to School draft also provides different protocols and procedures for circumstances in which there is no to minimal, minimal to moderate or substantial community spread.
Social distancing between students will be observed as much as possible as long as students are in school buildings, and student devices will be issued on a one-to-one basis as resources allow. The district has included technology as a priority in allocating CARES Act funds in order to make this possible.
According to the 21-page draft plan, while community spread is at zero or defined as minimal, students and staff will be allowed to enter and exit school buildings using normal procedures.
Masks will be provided by the district, or students may bring their own homemade or disposable basic surgical mask, and use of masks will be encouraged for students and staff who wish to use them.
School bus routes will begin normally if there is no to minimal community spread, but use of masks will be encouraged on the buses and assigned seating will be determined by drivers per board policy.
If spread rises to become defined as minimal to moderate, students and staff will only be allowed to enter the building at one to two sites.
Under these circumstances, students and staff will be encouraged to wear masks at all times and students and teachers should wash their hands every two to three hours. Visitors will not be allowed into school buildings except under extenuating circumstances, and those entering buildings will have their temperature taken and be required to answer health screening questions.
While spread is considered minimal to moderate, assigned seating will be required with students grouped with their siblings, and windows should be open. The busing and student transportation section of the draft on page 18 also says face masks should be worn by all staff and students while on the bus, and bus unloading at school will be staggered to allow 6 feet of distance between students as they enter through designated entry points.
Schools will close if spread is considered substantial.
The Greene County Board of Education did not have a meeting originally scheduled for July, but a called meeting to approve plans for reopening in the fall is scheduled for Monday at 7:30 p.m.
For full details of the Greene County Schools draft plan, go to www.greenek12.org.