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Ballad Health Officials: The Worst Is Yet To Come

The hospital system serving southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee is preparing for a surge of COVID-19 patients that may top last winter’s numbers.

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Ballad Health officials reported 160 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, with about a quarter of those patients in intensive care. Chief operating officer Eric Deaton said worst-case forecasts show the number of hospitalizations growing to more than 500 in two to three weeks. During last winter’s surge, hospitalizations peaked at 361. If the community adopts strong mitigation measures quickly, Deaton says the forecast peak could be
reduced to around 300 inpatients.

"It’s easy to stand up here and say the worst is yet to come," chief infection prevention officer Jamie Swift said during Wednesday's news conference. "But what does that look like? It looks like more hospitalizations and more deaths, more stress on our frontline care workers and more burnout on our frontline workers. It means more sick children in our pediatric intensive care units."

Ballad reported 116 employees out due to infection or exposure to COVID-19 cases. It’s asked retired nurses and respiratory therapists to come back on a temporary basis and has been trying to hire additional long-term employees.

Deaton said the hospital will likely have to start deferring elective procedures to later dates and will make a decision in the next few days. The surge of COVID-19 patients and strain on resources is also creating longer wait times in emergency rooms and longer waits for hospital beds. Ballad's Volunteer Parkway Urgent Care location near Bristol will be transitioned to a drive-through testing facility starting next week.

Virginia Sees Largest Single-day Increase Since February

On Wednesday, Virginia recorded the highest number of new COVID-19 infections since February. The update from the Virginia Department of Health shows the state added 2,117 new cases to its overall tally.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reported 936 COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the Commonwealth. That's the highest number since the end of April. UVA Health and Centra Health recently announced tighter restrictions on visitors.

During a call with reporters Tuesday, VDH officials said the more infectious Delta variant currently makes up about 80% of COVID-19 cases in Virginia.