Southwest Responsible for 30% of Virginia’s New COVID-19 Cases

By Erica Turman

December 9, 2020

Ballad Health needs plasma donations, warns that COVID-19 cases keep climbing in the region.

WISE-Alicia Veanne Deal died Nov. 9. The 30-year teacher had been in the hospital 13 days due to COVID-19. Her daughter Aimee Light shared Alicia’s story Wednesday as part of Ballad Health’s press conference, urging people in Southwest Virginia to take the pandemic seriously. 

“Aimee’s mother is one of 814 people who have died in this region because of COVID-19, and there are going to be more,” said Jamie Swift. “Today, we have 306 COVID-19 patients in Ballad health facilities.”

Swift serves as Ballad’s chief infection prevention officer. She warned Southwest Virginia residents that things are getting worse. Since Dec. 8, there have been 49 new COVID-19 patient admissions and 38 discharges. According to Swift, of the 306 patients in Ballad’s care, there are 62 people in the ICU, and 29 patients on ventilators. Of their combined ICU beds in Ballad facilities, 97% are in use. There are just 12 ICU beds left in their combined facilities.

“One of the hard realities is that we cannot save everyone,” Swift said. “I will never let a press briefing pass where I will not encourage you to mask up and to limit your exposure outside of your immediate household.”

Ballad operates medical facilities in Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky, as well as parts of Southwest Virginia. In the Commonwealth, Ballad has hospitals and emergency departments in Abingdon, Big Stone Gap, Clintwood, Lebanon, Marion and Norton.

Be Prepared for Flu Season

While COVID-19 has been on the rise this fall, this year’s flu season has been mild so far, according to Swift. However, she warned that we are not out of the woods yet.

“If we start to see our flu numbers increase in January and February, I am not sure Ballad Health can handle it,” she warned. “I want to encourage you to get your flu shot.”

Hannah Shipp, an ICU registered nurse at Sycamore Shoals Hospital, also spoke during the briefing and described her experience of working with the virus as a nurse.

“There are not enough words to describe what is happening at our hospitals with these patients,” Shipp said. “These patients with COVID-19 are the sickest people I have ever taken care of.”

Shipp choked up as she described the conditions of some of the patients she works with daily.

“Nothing could prepare me to see how quickly these patients deteriorate,” she said. “People code unexpectedly. This virus is like nothing we have ever dealt with before. Patients are isolated in rooms alone for days and weeks on end. Sometimes the care team are their only interaction. Most of them are fighting for their lives. I am tired of seeing families suffer and struggle with decisions about treatment. This is real.”

COVID Cases Reach Highest Mark 

As predicted, Thanksgiving caused problems in the region. Ballad staff reported 4,477 positive cases that week, the highest number since the pandemic started. The concern, Ballad Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton said, is that cases will keep climbing. 

“We are going to surpass 5,000 new cases this next week,” Deaton said. “Southwest Virginia is pushing closer to 30% of new cases. So, although the entire Commonwealth of Virginia is only showing 10.5% in new cases the percent is much greater within our region.”

Deacon said he continues to ask communities to wear masks and take extra precautions to help healthcare workers and others stay safe and keep hospital beds open.

As the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine prepares to go out as early as this month, Ballad officials say they are optimistic about its potential and encouraged the public to take it when it becomes available.

Experts have agreed that the first round of doses will go to medical personnel who have been on the front lines of the pandemic and are at a high risk of contracting the virus because of their work. In the meantime, Ballad Health officials urge the public to donate plasma as Ballad Health is currently using convalescent plasma to fight the virus. Ballad has given 1,360 units of plasma to COVID patients and has received 1,590 plasma donations. Interested donors can find out more information about how to donate by calling 423-408-7500.

Erica Turman is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].

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