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"A Very Disturbing Trend" -- Ballad Health Warns Of Another COVID-19 Surge


The hospital system that serves southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee is warning that another COVID-19 surge is building in the region.  This surge is impacting younger people in the community.

Ballad officials held their first COVID-19 news conference in two months on Wednesday.  They had been holding weekly briefings over the winter as the hospital system struggled to treat hundreds of hospitalized COVID-19 patients every day.  Cases and hospitalizations dropped dramatically in February and March and hospital operations normalized.

But Wednesday, Ballad's Chief Operating Officer, Eric Deaton, said the hospital system is seeing signs of another surge.  “While the situation is not as bad as in January, we are seeing a very disturbing trend moving forward,” Deaton told reporters. 

The daily number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has crept over the 100 mark during the last week or two. Deaton said the average patient age during the winter surge was around 70.  It's now 58 as the number of younger patients grows.  “That growing number continues to be concerning because we’re seeing  people as young as 20 or 30 years of age being either admitted or even on ventilators.”

The number of new cases and the positivity rate in Ballad's service area of Far Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee has also increased significantly.  On Wednesday the testing positivity rate was 13.9%, more than twice the statewide positivity rate in either Virginia or Tennessee.  The number of newly diagnosed cases has increased by 60% over the past few weeks.

Deaton said Ballad is not yet at the point where elective procedures will need to be paused again.  He said they're just now catching up on procedures canceled during the winter surge.  Ballad has also seen some recovery from employee burnout caused by the winter surge, but Deaton warned it won't take much to reverse that recover.  “Simply put, we really cannot take another surge like we’ve seen in the past.  Our health system was really strained before and we’re very concerned that we cannot sustain another strain."

Ballad's chief infection prevention officer Jamie Swift said it's important for the public to get vaccinated, get tested and to not ignore symptoms thinking they're allergies or some other illness.  Swift said there are usually appointments available every day at Ballad's vaccination centers.  They have also extended hours into the evening to make it easier to get a shot after work or school.