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The Delta variant has changed the game… Ballad Health preparing for an onslaught of COVID patients

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
On July 4th, 2021, local residents were once again enjoying what many called a return to normalcy attending Independence Day events, hosting parties, and even heading to the beach for vacations since the COVID-19 positivity rate was at 3.5 percent with the help of vaccinations since the first of the year.

However, what has occurred since that time has brought a time of highly elevated concern among the medical profession as local health provider Ballad Health had its second update in as many weeks with news that COVID-19 has returned with a vengeance and at a rate that could bring catastrophic results to its 21-county region.

“Since last week our numbers have tripled,” shared Eric Deaton, Chief Operating Officer of Ballad Health, on Wednesday. “We had 46 inpatients a week ago and today we have 125 inpatients.

“Our intake volume reflects really what we anticipated as a worst-case scenario. We weren’t expecting a number like this until probably September. That means we are seeing a very high hospitalization rate and seeing the number more than double within seven days.”

Deaton went on to add that at this pace the health provider could see a higher inpatient census than what was seen earlier in 2020. The numbers Deaton mentioned ranged from 400 to 500 within the next few weeks which is far worse than what the health provider anticipated.

The positivity rate as of Wednesday stood at 15 percent on the cusp of many teachers and students returning to the classroom this week for the start of a new school year.

There have been 1000 admissions for COVID-19 since March 2021.

Another concern that was clearly visible on Wednesday was the percentage of people who have been vaccinated in the 21-county area served by Ballad which currently is 37.3 percent as 95 percent of all those who have been diagnosed have not been vaccinated or have been partially vaccinated.

Deaton added, “We are starting to see wait times longer in our Emergency Departments and if we don’t start bending the curve back, it will start getting worse in the next few weeks.”

Not only is the health of the community a concern, but another concern from the standpoint of being a health provider is the fact there are not enough caregivers across the region to take care of the COVID patients which is ringing true across the nation as well.

Ballad has begun to reach out to retired nurses for additional support providing flexible hours so the nurses can work when they are available.

Deaton also said that the health provider is returning to universal masking for everyone meaning if one has been vaccinated or not they are to wear a mask.

Also, beginning on Friday, only one visitor will be allowed per patient for all hospitals and outpatient facilities according to Deaton. Other changes include no one under the age of 18 will be allowed to enter the facilities with expectant mothers having two visitors. With patients facing end of life, Deaton said some exceptions may be granted as well.

In a review of the Ballad scorecard, there have been 15 COVID deaths in the last seven days and of the 125 patients in the hospital, 33 are in the Intensive Care Unit and 17 are on ventilators. Three are pediatric patients.

Jamie Swift, Chief Infection Prevention Officer for Ballad Health, issued a stern warning to everyone saying, “I am not speaking lightly when I say this is catastrophic. It can do long-term damage to our communities.

“Please hear us when we say this is a time to not wait and watch — wear your mask, practice social distancing, and do contact tracing.”

Swift also addressed what breakthrough COVID infections which occur when someone who has been fully vaccinated is diagnosed with COVID-19.

“There is less than one percent of the 160,000,000-plus who have been fully vaccinated that have been diagnosed with breakthrough cases of COVID-19,” commented Swift.

One of the major concerns that the health provider has is the number of children who have been testing positive as of late.

“It hurts me to say that we have seen a positive uptick in our children,” stated Dr. Patricia Chambers, Chief Medical Officer for Niswonger Children’s Hospital. “We have two on vents that are fighting for their life. We have seen children younger than three years of age and teenagers.

“Across our state, there is an increase in numbers for pediatric cases and unfortunately deaths in our children. We have to do something to protect the 12 and under children. We need to put on masks and get the COVID-19 vaccinations.”

Dr. Chambers shared that although most children will recover from the virus, the disease’s long-term effects note that someone returning to play sports may notice a shortness of breath or brain fog.

She further added the best policy is to say no to large group gatherings as the health system does not have the space to absorb all the sick patients coming their way.

Dr. Josh Henry, the Medical Director of Pediatrics Intensive Care Unit, shared that the three patients currently under his care are the most they have had since the pandemic began.

“As a parent of an 11-year-old, I am scared,” said Dr. Henry. “I can’t wait until my child turns 12 so they can get a vaccination. I was one of the first in line to get the vaccination and it was like Christmas to me.”

Dr. Henry also shared how extremely tough it is to have to put a very sick child through the process of putting on a ventilator to help keep them alive.

“Intubation is a long process of procedures that I have to do to help these patients survive until they can begin to heal,” said Dr. Henry. “I have to give them a shot to put them to sleep and keep them still while I insert the ventilator tube. I might also have to put another tube into their stomach to feed them.”

He also mentioned other gut-wrenching steps that no parent would want to see their child go through to help them survive finally sharing, “If I have to take your child off the ventilator they will die.”

All the speakers kept reiterating the same message — get your vaccination and wear a mask whether you have been fully vaccinated or not.