Though the number of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) patients in its hospitals has plummeted recently, Ballad Health officials expect that decline to plateau in the coming days and weeks.
“We’ve seen a rapid decline in those cases as well, so that’s really good news,” Ballad Chief Physician Executive Dr. Clay Runnels said at a Tuesday press conference. “Now, I will point out that our predictive modeling does show that we should level out a little bit in the coming days and weeks, but we’re hoping we continue to decline.”
Dr. David Reagan, former chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Health and Ballad adviser, said the recent decline was expected as the holiday season passes.
“This is pretty much what we had thought would happen,” Reagan said. “We were expecting to level off here some because there’s still widespread community transmission and lots of things going on, but we don’t have a big holiday that’s going to drive transmission.”
According to the hospital system’s in-house modeling, hospitalizations are expected to remain relatively flat for the next month, hovering around the 225 mark. As of Tuesday, Ballad had 230 people hospitalized with the virus, a drop of 15 from Monday and a decline of 131 from its peak of 361 reported on Jan. 5.
Of those hospitalized, 57 were in intensive care and 33 were on ventilators. There were 74 available COVID-designated beds.
Runnels said the system’s safe-at-home program, in which patients on the borderline of needing admission due to infection are treated at home via Telehealth, has also played a big role in keeping the system’s hospitalizations at a more manageable number. Runnels estimated that the program, which has treated more than 800 people, has diverted about 100 admissions, though about 15% of those in the program end up needing to be admitted at a later date.
Jamie Swift, Ballad’s chief infection prevention officer, said the recent decline doesn’t mean that people can let up on safety measures, and said they’re more important than ever to sustain the decline in cases and hospitalizations.
“If we let up, we know what will happen,” Swift said.
Region’s seven-day new case rate drops to lowest point since Nov. 11
Northeast Tennessee’s seven-day new case average fell to its lowest point in more than two months on Tuesday, with the region recording its second-straight day with fewer than 200 new cases — a streak not seen since Nov. 5 and 6.
As of Tuesday, the region’s seven-day new case average was down to 238.1, just above the Nov. 11 rate of 234. Only four counties reported a double-digit new case count Tuesday, led by Washington County’s 38 new cases. Greene (17), Hawkins (19) and Sullivan (28) counties also added more than 10 cases.
The recent low case counts can be at least partly attributed to a low number of tests reported this week, with 736 reported on Monday and 439 on Tuesday. The seven-day positive test rate remains high at 16.22%, but has been trending down over the past two weeks.
The state’s new case rate has also declined, down to its lowest seven-day rate since late November, but the decline hasn’t been as steep as Northeast Tennessee’s.
Region has no counties with 1,000-plus active cases for first time since early Decemeber
Sullivan County, the region’s last remaining county with more than 1,000 active cases, saw its total fall by 146, bringing its count below 1,000 for the first time since Dec. 10. Washington County, which led the region in active cases for much of the past month, saw its count fall below the thousand mark on Jan. 15, and saw a decline over the past three days since hitting 1,008 active cases on Jan. 16.
Greene County had more than 1,000 active cases for two days, Dec. 21 and 22, and hasn’t returned to that level since.
Overall active cases are at their lowest point in more than a month. The region reported 3,396 on Tuesday, a drop of 464 from Monday’s total. Sullivan (873) and Washington (866) counties have the most active cases in the region. Greene County is third with 556 active cases.