An increase in COVID-19 cases across the region has prompted Ballad Health to postpone all elective and non-emergency surgeries, including already-scheduled procedures, effective Thursday, Aug. 26.

On Aug. 15, the number of COVID-19 patients being treated as inpatients at Ballad Health reached 281, including nine children at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

Ballad reported Wednesday that based on the current trend it’s likely that could be serving as many as 400 COVID-19 patients within two weeks.

“As we continue to urge mitigation steps in the community, such as vaccinations and wearing masks indoors, we must also take the unfortunate step of further limiting our services,” said Ballad chief operating officer Eric Deaton. “To prepare for a higher volume than we originally anticipated as our best-case scenario, we must now begin planning for a worst-case scenario.”

Deaton added, “Unfortunately, as the volumes appear to be growing even more, the strain on the system is such that additional steps are important to safely optimize our capacity to absorb the anticipated volumes.”

Postponed procedures will include low-acuity surgeries for healthy and unhealthy patients, including, but not limited to hernia repair, cholecystectomy, cardiac and interventional radiology procedures, aesthetic and plastic surgeries, podiatric procedures, vasectomies, bariatrics, joint replacements, screening endoscopies and non-essential spine surgery.

“This was not an easy decision to make; however, it is necessary if we’re to effectively fight the COVID-19 pandemic in our hospitals,” said Ballad chief physician executive Dr. Clay Runnels. “The people who need these procedures are not experiencing their best quality of life, and it deeply troubles us that we have to put them on hold to handle this COVID-19 surge – one that could have been prevented or at least mitigated with more widespread prevention measures and a higher uptake of vaccines.”

Hawkins County COVID by the numbers

In mid-July the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) was reporting that new COVID cases in Hawkins County had dwindled down to almost none, but as of the past two weeks they’re spiking again.

Over the past seven days Hawkins County has averaged 260.7 COVID tests per day, with 12.9 percent of those tests being positive, according to the TDH.

As of Tuesday Hawkins County had 547 active COVID cases including 47 new cases reported that day.

In the week of Aug. 17-23 Hawkins County had 341 new COVID cases for an average of 48.7 per day, compared to only 251 during the the week of Aug. 10-16, or 35.8 per day.

In the previous 14 days between July 27 and Aug. 9 there were 313 new cases, or 22.3 per day.

The last day that there was no new COVID case reported in Hawkins County was July 17.

As of Tuesday, Aug. 24 Hawkins County had 817 new cases in August, compared to 196 for the entire month of July.

Since the pandemic began in March of 2020 Hawkins County has reported 7,360 total COVID cases, with 126 COVID-associated deaths, 188 hospitalized and 6,687 recovered.

Reduced visitation for COVID 19 patients

Effective Thursday, Aug. 26, visitation will not be permitted in rooms with COVID-19 positive patients, or in adult units in behavioral health centers.

Previously, the health system had permitted two visitors for each patient for a two-hour period, and it screened visitors for potential signs of illness. However, the continued spread of COVID-19 necessitated an expansion of this policy to restrict all public guests in these critical areas.

Exceptions to this policy include patients positive for COVID-19 on a Ballad Health labor and delivery unit, who will be allowed one visitor during the entirety of the hospital stay. Patients who are positive for COVID-19 in the neonatal intensive care unit at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, and in pediatric rooms, will be allowed two visitors, but they must be parents/guardians.

Concessions for end-of-life and extenuating circumstances will be made on a case-by-case basis.

How to get your COVID test, vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccines are available to all Tennesseans 12 and older with no appointment necessary.

Walk-in options are available at all health departments. If you prefer to make an appointment, check COVID-19 vaccine appointment availability at any of the state health departments, or browse all vaccine providers and find a location close to you at www.vaccines.gov

For more information call the Rogersville Health Department at (423) 272-7641; or the Church Hill Health Department at (423) 357-5341.

To fully mitigate the situation and bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control, Ballad advocates for wearing masks in public, and COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone 12 and over.

As of Wednesday 39% of the Tri-Cities Region is fully vaccinated.

All local health departments in Tennessee provide drive-through testing Monday through Friday between 8:30 – 9:30 am.

Those hours include both Hawkins County locations: Church Hill, 247 Silver Lake Road; and Rogersville, 201 Park Blvd.

Test results may be available within 72 hours, depending on the volume of tests that the testing lab receives.

Self-testing kits are available for pick-up at each of the health departments listed below Monday through Friday between 8:30 am-4:00 pm. People using self-test kits need to be 18 years or older, have a smart phone and e-mail address.