Jamie Swift, Ballad Health’s chief infection officer, said Tennessee’s rate of cases and of deaths is among the worst in the nation, and that the region Ballad serves is the worst of the worst.
She said people think health officials are being dramatic and that pictures they’ve seen elsewhere of makeshift hospitals in parking structures won’t happen.
“I want to make it clear: It absolutely can happen here,” Swift said.
Ballad reported Wednesday that 63 more people had died during the past seven days, bringing the cumulative total for the counties it serves in Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to 530 deaths.
It was treating its highest number of COVID-19 patients yet, 217, with another six suspected of having the disease. Of those patients, 39 were in the intensive care unit and 23 were on ventilators. Swift said they had but five ICU beds left.
Swift said they had discharged 30 COVID-19 patients the day before and the beds just filled up again.
She said they have also seen 30 children in the last few days, including at least one whose infection was directly tied to trick-or-treating.
Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday said he was not considering any restrictions on gatherings or on businesses as cases continue to increase in Southwest Virginia. He said the state would instead launch a communication campaign to prompt people to wear masks, keep their distance and stay home if they are sick.
Ballad Health each Wednesday holds a Facebook Live briefing in which executives, COVID-19 patients and their family members plead with people to protect each other.
Ballad is in what the Virginia Department of Health considers the Far Southwest region. It has dealt with staff members being exposed to the virus and had 281 quarantined or in isolation on Wednesday.
It has also been dealing with a shortage of nurses that has worsened with the pandemic. It has boosted pay for staff and is offering bonuses for new hires.
The Roanoke and New River valleys are in the Near Southwest region. The hospital systems that serve the region on Wednesday said they have 203 COVID-19 patients, up from 186 the week before. Of the patients, 38 are in ICUs and 18 are on ventilators. Another 35 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms, awaiting lab confirmation.
None of the hospitals in Near Southwest have announced curtailment of other services in order to deal with those with the virus.
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