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Ballad sees number of new COVID-19 cases decline thanks to mask mandates

By Richard Rourk

Despite more COVID-19 patients being hospitalized than at the time of its media briefing on Aug. 5, Ballad officials are seeing a slowing in the number of new cases thanks to mask mandates.

During a briefing on Wednesday, Aug. 12, Ballad Health’s Director of Infection Prevention Jamie Swift announced Ballad’s daily COVID numbers. 

“We currently have 117 COVID-19 patients receiving care at Ballad facilities. We had 94 COVID patients during last week’s (Aug. 5) briefing and a month ago we had 38,” Swift said. “We have 22 COVID-19 positive patients in ICU and 11 of those patients are on ventilators. We have 40 patients under investigation for COVID-19 and our current COVID patient occupancy level is at 92.2 percent for med surge beds and 87.7 percent for ICU beds. We currently have 45 beds designated for COVID-19 patients. 

“We are seeing numbers trend down, but we must keep efforts up to keep these trends going down for several weeks and not several days. This is just too early to be optimistic.”

According to Ballad Chief Physician Executive Dr. Clay Runnels, mask mandates are showing signs of slowing the spread of the virus. 

“We appreciate local mayors, such as Sullivan County’s mayor (Richard Venable), in extending mask mandates,” Runnels said. “There is a study that has been done by Vanderbilt University that shows a direct correlation of mask mandates and a drop in positive cases in Tennessee. We here at Ballad would be thrilled to see this curve flatten.”

Runnels explained that percentages in the region have recently started to decline. 

“We have seen a steady growth of new positive cases on a weekly basis in our 21 county region, but this past week we saw a slight decrease,” Runnels said. “We had 1,531 new cases compared to the previous weeks 1,807. This is promising, but we want to see these numbers drop for a few weeks before we get optimistic. We must continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands to slow this down.”

According to Runnels national COVID-19 testing turn around times continue to be slow.

“Nationally we are seeing COVID testing continue to take longer than expected,” Runnels said. “Our region has not become immune to this trend. If you get a COVID-19 test, it’s not unusual for it to take a week to 10 days to get your results back, which is not ideal. Delays are occurring because of backlogs at national labs and testing facilities. At Ballad we are working to get as many tests back as quickly as possible. We have opened up a new testing site at the urgent care in Abingdon.”

For more information, please visit balladhealth.org.