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Ballad: Masks mandates helping in fight against COVID-19

By Richard Rourk

More information is rolling in about COVID-19 in the Appalachian Highlands region and, according to Ballad officials during a media briefing on Wednesday, Aug. 26, numbers continue to trend down. 

“We currently are at 92 patients in Ballad facilities that are positive for COVID-19,” Ballad Health’s Director of Infection Prevention Jamie Swift said. “Of those patients, 20 patients are in ICU, and 16 are on ventilators. We are at a 95.8 percent COVID patient occupancy rate with med-surg beds and at 92.3 percent rate on ICU beds throughout the health system. Ballad currently has 31 COVID dedicated beds available and 11 COVID dedicated ICU beds available. Our positivity rate is at 7.7 percent and we want to see this trend go down. We must make sure we are wearing our masks properly, keeping our six feet of distance and washing and sanitizing our hands.”

According to Ballad Health Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton, Ballad’s forecasting models are showing that COVID-19 numbers are decreasing since the mask mandates have been implemented in the region. 

“As you can see our numbers saw a brief spike when the mandates were implemented, but in the two-week period following the mandates those numbers continue to drop,” Deaton said. “The last two weeks we fell down to 1,257 cases and 1,266 cases, so we are seeing the trends level off. Our inpatient rate is also dropping down and leveling off; it spiked several weeks back at around 125 patients. Now we are seeing an average around the 100 mark. We would like to see counties in our region extend mask mandates to continue these trends.”

Swift announced an expansion of in-house testing for Ballad Health. 

“I’m excited to announce that we are expanding our in-house testing footprint,” Swift said. “As flu season approaches we will be able to offer a test that tests for Influenza A, Influenza B, RSV and COVID-19 with one test, one swab. This allows us to quickly identify and differentiate between these illnesses and will allow for a quicker turnaround.”

According to Deaton, COVID-19 testing has improved as testing facilities are getting caught up. “We are seeing tests that used to take a week to 10 days to get back now having a turnaround time of three to five days,” Deaton said. “Our in-house testing is now taking around 24 hours turnaround and our external testing is at three to five days to get results back, so that is very good.”

One number has increased in the past week and that is the number of deaths. 

“We have seen the numbers of death increase and that was expected,” Deaton said. “Last week we had 21 deaths in the region due to COVID-19. First, you see the number of cases increase, then you see the number of hospitalizations increase and that’s followed by an increase in deaths. It may take a week or two for the increases to take effect, so in the coming weeks we hope to see the number of deaths trend down now that cases and hospitalization rates have dropped.”

Wednesday’s media briefing ended with Ballad Health Chief Nursing Officer Lisa Smithgall providing an update on the latest data on a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic on the use of plasma from patients that have recovered from COVID-19 as a way to battle COVID-19. 

“We have had a great response from those that have recovered from COVID-19 and participated in donating plasma,” Smithgall said. “We have received more than 400 units from donations and used those donations to treat 270 patients that were positive for COVID. We are seeing positive results in those patients. The FDA has now approved convalescent plasma collected from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat current patients that are battling the virus. 

“Since we partnered with the Mayo Clinic, we have been able to treat our patients with convalescent plasma. This venture has been successful for patients that have seen moderate symptoms from COVID-19 and have helped prevent them from experiencing life-threatening complications from the virus. I have had numerous patients say they felt better after receiving the plasma treatment and that it probably saved their life. If you have recovered from COVID-19 please consider contacting Marsh to donate plasma and save lives.”

For more information and updates please visit balladhealth.org.