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COVID-19 Hospitalizations At Ballad Health Nearly Triple In A Week

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COVID-19 hospitalizations at the health system that serves portions of southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee have nearly tripled in one week.  And officials at Ballad Health fear the delta variant surge will be even worse than last winter's caseload.

During a weekly news conference Wednesday morning, Ballad chief operating officer Eric Deaton reported 125 hospitalizations, up from 46 the previous Wednesday.  Deaton said the hospital system had been preparing for a surge, but did not expect to see such high numbers until September.  He warned that Ballad's modeling now forecasts 400 to 500 inpatients within weeks.  "Every indicator that we’re seeing right now is that this will be worse than we saw last winter," Deaton warned.

About 95% of the hospitalized patients have not been vaccinated.  The vaccination rate in Ballad's service area has remained low.  Just 37.3% of the population has been fully vaccinated, well behind Virginia's statewide average of 54.2%.  Tennessee's statewide average is just 39.3%.  Deaton said vaccination is the best way to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.

Ballad officials also urged people, even those who are fully vaccinated, to again don masks.  "This is not a time to wait and watch," chief infection prevention officer Jamie Swift said.  "If we wait and see if we have spread in our schools and our events, it is too late. Now is the time to institute the prevention measures such as masks, social distancing and contact tracing."  Deaton said he and the hospital system fully support the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control that all students, staff and visitors in school buildings wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

Ballad doctors said they are seeing a higher percentage of children testing positive and being hospitalized for COVID-19.  Doctor Patricia Chambers with Niswonger Children's Hospital said about 22% of the positive cases in the region are people under the age of 18. Three children are in Ballad's pediatric intensive care unit because of COVID-19 complications, more than at any time during the pandemic.  Chambers warned that it's not safe to hold large group gatherings or parties.

Ballad is reinstating a universal mask policy at all of its facilities and reducing visitation.  Deaton said it's  likely that elective procedures will have to be delayed and a decision would be made later Wednesday or Thursday.  "These hospitalizations have been tragic for the families.  And it's demoralizing to many of our caregivers because they see the same thing happen over and over again when it doesn't have to be happening," Deaton said.

Late Wednesday, UVA Wise announced masks will be required for all indoor campus settings starting Friday.

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