The Tennessee Department of Health told local officials Tuesday that Sullivan County has had its first confirmed case of the new respiratory disease. This came shortly after the World Health Organization classified the disease as a pandemic.
As of March 16, all Ballad Health hospitals will limit public entry points and screen all visitors. Visitors will also be limited to one guest per patient, and no visitors under age 12 will be allowed, Levine said.
The public will only be allowed certain entrances at Ballad facilities and specific entrances for the public will vary at each Ballad facility.
Ballad Health workers will still be able to access restricted areas through their employee badges. Levine said Ballad is doing “everything we can” to protect its facilities so that nurses and physicians will be prepared in the event of a local outbreak.
“It’s easy to discount this because it’s not affecting us directly today because there’s not a spread in our region, but that can change very quickly,” Levine said.
Before visitors can see patients, they will be evaluated for potential COVID-19 risk. Visitors may have their temperatures checked, be given masks or may be restricted from visitation.
There will be exceptions to the one-visitor rule that will be in place for the system’s birthing center and pediatric departments, which will allow two visitors per patient.
Further exceptions will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for hospice, end-of-life care and other circumstances, and privately employed patient sitters will follow the same screening guidance and protocols as Ballad Health employees.
Ballad Health has ceased visitation at its long-term care facilities. Visitors will not be permitted at Francis Marion Manor Health & Rehabilitation, Marion, Virginia; Laughlin Healthcare Center, Greeneville; Madison House, Kingsport; and Wexford House, Kingsport.
These restrictions will also apply to clinical students at these locations. As with general hospital visitation, Levine said there will be some case-by-case exceptions.
Levine said the health care provider is staying vigilant about the spread of the disease. He emphasized the importance of hand-washing, staying home when sick and avoiding close contact with others who may be sick, especially for older patients with higher mortality rates.
Levine said institutions across the region should continue to implement aggressive measures to prevent the spread of the disease and warned against dismissing concerns.
“This is not the flu. This is a novel virus. We do not know the longterm effects of this virus,” he said.
All COVID-19 information, updates and guidelines are available on www.balladhealth.org/COVID19.