Area hospitalizations due to COVID-19 reached the highest level this month Tuesday, coinciding with a week when this region recorded more than 2,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus.
Ballad Health System reported treating 171 inpatients Tuesday — the most since late October — with 30 new admissions. That represents a 19% increase in hospitalizations over just a week ago after two weeks of sharp rises in new cases across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
Forty of those patients were being treated in intensive care units, with 30 of the most seriously ill on ventilators, according to Ballad.
“While current COVID-19 cases are not at the all-time highs of early September, during the worst of the Delta surge, Ballad Health is still closely monitoring the recent uptick in both new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Ballad said in a statement issued Tuesday.
Ballad officials also emphasized that the majority of cases in Ballad facilities, 92%, were unvaccinated.
One year ago, during Thanksgiving week 2020, the region was in the throes of a serious surge of COVID cases. Ballad Health was treating more than 200 inpatients, including over 40 in ICUs and preparing to adjust operations and shift resources to treat hundreds more.
This November, the regional health system’s inpatient census has remained relatively flat throughout the month, ranging from 163 Nov. 1 to a low of 135 on Nov. 15. Ballad averaged about 150 inpatients last week but reported 158 Monday, with 40 new admissions, before hitting the highest level thus far with 171 on Tuesday.
While the patient numbers aren’t that far removed, the biggest difference from last year is the widespread availability of COVID vaccines. However, only 45.3% of the region’s total population is fully vaccinated against the virus — compared to over 49% of all Tennesseans and about 65% of all Virginians.
With over half the region’s population still unvaccinated, the region’s seven-day testing positivity average climbed from under 11% last week to nearly 14% this week.
Forty area residents have died due to COVID complications during the past seven days, and 134 have died since Nov. 1 — an average of almost six per day.
During the past week, new cases rose almost 23% across 10 Northeast Tennessee counties with 1,243 cases diagnosed — the most in a single week in November, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
Washington County, Tennessee, led the way with 368 new cases and a seven-day positivity average of 15%, while Sullivan County tallied 330 new cases with a positivity rate of 13.4%. Sullivan has recorded over 950 cases during November.
Community spread continued in rural Johnson County, which reported 75 new cases and a 19.5% positivity rate, which is down from 123 new cases and a 21.2% rate the prior week.
The number of active cases in Northeast Tennessee rose 17%, from 1,800 last week to more than 2,100 this week, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Sullivan and Washington counties each reported nearly 600 active cases, while there are over 200 in Hawkins and Greene counties, nearly 150 in Carter and nearly 140 in Johnson County.
The 10 counties and two cities of far Southwest Virginia reported more than 800 new COVID-19 cases for the second consecutive week, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Washington and Dickenson counties each registered more than 100 new cases, followed closely by Tazewell County with 95 and Russell County with 88.
New cases in the city of Bristol rose slightly with 27 this past week, compared to 23 and 22 during the two prior weeks.
Scott County reported the region’s highest seven-day testing positivity average at 23.3%, meaning nearly one in four people tested was positive for the novel coronavirus. Scott had 77 new cases during the past week, a decline from over 100 last week.
In its statement, Ballad encouraged local residents to “factor safety considerations in to their holiday plans, especially if mixing households with unvaccinated individuals. In those instances, wearing masks when not eating and practicing physical distancing whenever possible can help protect everyone — vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.”
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