JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Alarming increases in COVID-19 inpatients and regional testing positivity have Ballad Health officials concerned.
On Monday, the regional hospital group reported treating 109 COVID-positive patients in its facilities, the highest number since mid-February after three solid weeks of increasing numbers of cases. Thirty-seven are being treated in intensive care units — double the number of just two weeks ago — with 14 on ventilators.
Additionally, the region’s seven-day COVID testing positivity average remains above 14% — more than twice the state averages in Tennessee and Virginia.
“We’re seeing increasing cases,” Ballad Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton said during a Monday news conference. “We have some very active strains in our region right now, and we’re going to be doing some additional testing to help identify that. … For the last four weeks, we’ve seen an increase in cases week over week.”
Ballad treated an average 94 COVID patients daily last week, up from about 85 per day during the previous week.
“I was alarmed this morning. About a month ago, we were running about 64 inpatients. Then we saw it creep up to around 90. When I came in this morning and saw the numbers were 109 inpatients, it’s very alarming,” he said. “We believe, if you look at the forecast modeling our team has been doing, we could be back to around 150 to 160 inpatients again within a matter of time.”
While that is well below the nearly 370 inpatients treated in January, it continues to stress the health care system.
“That’s probably the result of people ... not wearing a mask as much when they’re going out, they think it’s over or this is due to spring break,” he said.
Deaton was upbeat that about a third of the region’s population has been vaccinated against the virus, but he hopes that number continues rising.
“We’re not done with this. I think you’ll continue to see COVID-19 for some time to come. Even if we get to low intake numbers, I could see we’ll be taking care of COVID patients for the next several years,” Deaton said. “I think we need to get more and more people vaccinated so we can get that herd immunity.”
About 60% of Ballad employees have been vaccinated.
Regional testing positivity hit 14.5% last Friday and was 14.2% Monday, the highest rate since mid-February.
While Tennessee’s statewide positivity average remains at 6%, the rates are substantially higher in this region, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Sullivan County’s seven-day average was 15.3%, adding 38 new cases daily over the past 14 days. Washington County had the highest rate, at 17.2%, adding 33 new cases per day for the past two weeks. Carter County was at 15.2%, and Hawkins County was 12.7%.
In Virginia, the Cumberland Plateau Health District counties were at 6.1%, LENOWISCO was 6.4%, and the Mount Rogers Health District was at 11.4%, among the highest in the state. Virginia’s statewide average was 6.4%.