Ballad Health officials are cautiously optimistic that the curve is flattening for COVID-19 cases in the region, but stress that the public still needs to be vigilant about precautions to prevent another spike in cases.
The positive rate among those tested for the coronavirus in the past seven days stands at 7.7% and has been under 10% for several days after peaking at more than 11% a few weeks ago, according to Wednesday’s COVID-19 scorecard produced each weekday by the health system.
“This is a a good trend,” said Jamie Swift, chief infection officer for Ballad Health. However, she said, “The trends can turn very quickly. We are not out of the woods yet. We need as a community to continue what we have been doing to limit the spread.”
Wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing and reducing the number of non-essential trips together contribute to a reduction of the spread, Swift said, and all need to be continued for case numbers to decline.
“Cases seem to be starting to flatten out a bit,” said Eric Deaton, chief operating officer for Ballad Health and head of its coronavirus emergency response team. “It is a very good trend. … The community is getting it and doing what they need to do.”
This trend helps with the health system’s efforts to keep enough capacity to provide care for coronavirus patients while maintaining regular operations.
Swift and Deaton’s comments came during Ballad Health’s weekly coronavirus briefing. Officials also discussed the use of convalescent plasma to treat coronavirus patients and its effectiveness thus far.
Greene County’s number of new COVID-19 cases increased by 21 on Wednesday, according to the daily update from the Tennessee Department of Health. There are now 502 active cases within the county, up 10 from Tuesday. There are 11 more people listed as recovered from the illness, according to Wednesday’s report.
The county has had a total of 759 positive cases of the virus since the pandemic began with 246 people who have recovered. Eleven people have died from the virus locally, six of those reported this month.
Locally, two more people have been hospitalized with the virus, according to the state report. Since the pandemic began, 46 people have needed hospital care for the virus.
Greene County has the third most active cases in the Northeast Tennessee region served by Ballad. Washington County has the most at 824, and Carter has 551.
New cases reported across Tennessee for Wednesday totaled 1,936 with 20 more deaths and 1,730 recoveries reported. Since the pandemic began, there have been 147,353 positive cases identified in Tennessee with 1,648 deaths and 109,765 recoveries.
Lisa Smithgall, chief nursing executive for Ballad Health, said 400 units of convalescent plasma have been donated in the region with 270 of those units used to treat coronavirus patients thus far.
Ballad Health has been part of a national study to gauge the effectiveness of convalescent plasma under the direction of the Mayo Clinic. The study is still in progress with no definitive results released yet.
“We are seeing positive results thus far,” Smithgall said. “We have had patients who have said that they feel the convalescent plasma saved their lives.”
Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced guidelines for the use of convalescent plasma as an investigational treatment for the virus.
These guidelines do not change how the treatment is being used by Ballad Health, she said, explaining that the FDA’s directive basically describes how it has been used since April by the health system.
Asked about the possibility for more usage of the treatment if donations increased, Smithgall said that might not be the case.
The treatment is used once a patient meets certain criteria in the seriousness of their symptoms, she explained. The patient is seriously ill, Smithgall continued, and the treatment is used in those patients to try to prevent them from reaching the point of having to be placed on a ventilator.
Anyone who has recovered from the coronavirus is asked to consider donating their plasma.
“One donation can make a difference for a COVID-19 patient,” she said. “It can save a person’s life.”
Those interested in donating can visit marshblood.com to see if they meet the criteria to give and find the nearest donation site. People can also call the Marsh Regional Blood Center at 423-408-7500.
Deaton noted that the treatment of coronavirus patients has evolved since the beginning of the pandemic as more has been learned about the illness and more data has been presented about various medications and treatments. He commended the efforts of physicians to reduce mortality rates as much as possible.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has been hovering around 100 for the past few weeks while hospitalizations from the virus reached 125 when cases were spiking, he said.
That helps with the capacity of the hospitals to provide beds for both care of coronavirus and regular patients, Deaton said.
Staffing levels are monitored each day, he said. Direct care staff from the community facilities, including Greeneville Community Hospital East, have been shifted to the larger hospitals coronavirus units to help with the increased number of patients within the health system.
Those employees have been given pay increases, he said, and with the stresses involved in working in those units, the health system is offering mental health services to them as well.
Ballad Health Chairman and CEO Alan Levine said the health system appreciates executive orders from the governor that have allowed the hiring of people who are licensed out of state to work in facilities to help provide care and hopes those orders are extended.