UPDATE: Ballad Health to close emergency operations center, remove visitation restrictions | Local News

Delly Bezoss

With new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations at their lowest points since last summer, Ballad Health on Monday announced the closure of its corporate emergency operations center, the removal of visitation restrictions and the end of its Safer-At-Home program.

“We are grateful to see the drop in COVID-19 cases across our region, and we welcome some normalcy back to our hospitals and our clinics,” Ballad Chief Operating Officer and CEOC Incident Commander Eric Deaton said in a press release. “We are remaining diligent in caring for and monitoring COVID-19 cases across the Appalachian Highlands, and we will be flexible and responsive as the situation changes so we can keep our communities safe and meet everyone’s healthcare needs.”

Established 777 days ago in March 2020, the CEOC helped the hospital system coordinate its response to the pandemic since it was established after the region’s first cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed. And though the CEOC is no longer formally meeting and operating, should cases begin rising again, the CEOC has the ability to reconvene to respond to the pandemic.

Q&A with Ballad's Jamie Swift on the state of the pandemic, a new variant and what's next

In conjunction with the CEOC’s closure, Ballad said it will cease distribution of its scorecard showing the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, new admissions and discharges and the number of people requiring intensive care and the number of people on a ventilator. In March, Ballad stopped reporting the scorecard every weekday and moved to distributing it on a weekly basis as the number of people hospitalized with the virus declined.

Along with the closure of the CEOC, Ballad announced visitation restrictions in all facilities have been removed and visitors are now welcome from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Masking restrictions for staff working in non-patient care areas, such as offices, have also been removed. Ballad has also closed drive-though testing sites at its urgent care facilities.

The hospital system will also be ending its Safer-At-Home program, which is credited with keeping hundreds of people out of the hospital during surges — preserving much-needed bed space for more critically ill patients. The program treated those who were sick with COVID-19, but not sick enough to necessitate hospitalization, at home with virtual treatment. Those still in the program will receive treatment until they are past their active infection.

Like the CEOC, should cases and hospitalizations rise the Safer-At-Home program will be reinstated.

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Since climbing to a record-high 454 hospitalizations during the height of the omicron wave on Feb. 8, Ballad’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen dramatically — down 93.8% in the 69 days since.

As of Monday, there were 28 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across Ballad’s hospitals, the fewest reported since July 12. Of those hospitalized, three were in intensive care and four were on ventilators, while nobody had been admitted to the hospital with the virus in the previous day.

Ballad’s scorecard includes all those hospitalized with COVID-19, even if COVID-19 is not the primary cause of their hospitalizations.

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Cases are also down across Northeast Tennessee, with the region averaging 19 new cases per days as of April 9, the most recent day for which data was available. That total is at its lowest point since last summer, and was down 98.5% from its peak of 1,309.4 new cases per day on Jan. 26. New reported cases have been stable between 17-21 new cases per day for the two weeks prior to April 9.

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Nationwide case totals, while well below where they were during the omicron surge, are increasing — particularly in the Northeast part of the United States, according to data from the New York Times. But, because of the availability of home tests, case totals reported by states only represent a portion of the true number of new infections, suggesting the number of new cases may be higher than reported.



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