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Surge driver… Testing suggests UK B117 COVID variant responsible for the uptick

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
Ballad Health held its weekly media update concerning COVID-19 in the 21-county region which is serviced by the medical provider and there is still a huge concern with the current surge in regard to COVID-19.

“The data is concerning as it shows that the surge is continuing to progress,” said Ballad Health Chief Physician Executive Dr. Clay Runnels. “There has been a steady rise in the number of cases showing a seven to eight percent per week growth.

“The current positivity rate is 11.7 percent which is higher than the state of Tennessee and the Commonwealth of Virginia overall positivity rate and well above the five percent rate of low community spread where we want to be.

“The days have been up and down, but the trend continues to be up.”

To date, there have been 1,999 deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in the region but Dr. Runnels believes that number is expected to rise in the coming weeks.

Also, the average age of death has dropped from 74 to 66.

Dr. Runnels also shared some preliminary information from wastewater testing which indicates there is a significant amount of COVID-19 in wastewater and suggests that there is a variant transmission in the region.

“There is a significant amount of COVID-19 in the wastewater and the UK B117 variant appears to be driving the surge in the region,” Dr. Runnells commented. “Next week we will know more when more data is released.

“The spread is significant as the UK B117 spreads more easily but it is well-covered by the vaccine.”

According to the scorecard released, there have been eight deaths in the last seven days related to COVID-19 in the region. Currently, there are 137 COVID-19 patients in the hospital in the 21-county region with 29 of those patients in Intensive Care and 20 on ventilators.

There is one patient under investigation for COVID-19. Also, there have been 24 admissions and 17 discharges for COVID-19.

Since March 1, 2020, there have been 96,520 total positive cases diagnosed.

Ballad has administered 41, 902 first doses and 37,399 second doses.

Dr. Runnels shared a concern surrounding the vaccinations.

“The gap between the first and second doses has fallen off,” Dr. Runnells said. “I encourage everyone to get vaccinations. Vaccines, wearing masks, and social distancing will continue to lead to saving lives.

“In the next five to six weeks if people will get vaccinated, I feel confident we can see the surge decline.”

In Virginia, there have been 5,410,736 people vaccinated ( 3,244,578 first doses and 2,166,158 second doses) and Tennessee has reported 3,666873 vaccinations (2,169,837 first doses and 1,497,036 second doses).

Northeast Tennessee’s portion of the overall number of Tennessee is 9.1 percent.

Also, Marsh Regional Blood Center is at a critically low level and Ballad encourages anyone that is able to donate blood to do so. For those receiving vaccinations, there is a 48-hour wait before donating whether after the first or second dose.

Convalescent plasma is also being requested from those who have had COVID-19 and have recovered to be used for current patients.