As the rate of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise, a Southwest Virginia healthcare provider is actively seeking help.
The Health Wagon, which serves residents of Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott and Wise counties, issued an urgent email appeal Sunday for health care volunteers to supplement its staff.
“The Health Wagon is calling for emergency general and medical volunteers. We are in immediate need of Nurse Practitioners, RNs, RPNs, Nursing Assistants, Physician Assistants, Physicians, Paramedics and Office Support. Both short-term and long-term commitments are needed,” according to the email. They also explore state and federal resource options.
Contacted on Monday, CEO Dr. Teresa Tyson said the needs are on multiple fronts.
“Twenty percent of our staff are (COVID) positive. We are overwhelmed and need nurses to support testing and healthcare providers to help treat in person and via telehealth. These are our greatest needs,” Tyson said, adding that his staff were exhausted.
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The Health Wagon employs around 50 people and has a large volunteer base who it hopes will respond.
As a region, Southwest Virginia has the highest community transmission rate in the state, with 37.6% of all patients testing positive for COVID-19 in the past seven days. Many localities recorded their highest weekly average since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Community transmission levels were above 41% in six localities, with the cities of Bristol and Norton and Wythe County having among the highest rates in Virginia.
Bristol’s seven-day average test positivity rate is 46.4%, meaning almost half of those tested for COVID-19 were positive. In the past seven days, the city has diagnosed 286 new cases of COVID-19 and its total for 2022 is 815. During this time, the city’s positivity rate has more than doubled since January 1, while it was 21%, according to VDH.
The City of Norton’s rate is 47.6% and the County of Wythe’s is 45.2%. Scott, Washington, and Wise counties are all at or above 41%. On January 1, the regional rate was 26.2%. On Monday, the statewide average rate was 27.9%.
Tyson said even more testing was crucial.
“The need for testing exceeds what we can currently provide. The healthcare system is under strain from rising COVID rates. We are doing our best to do more testing to avoid an increase in illness from the disease,” Tyson said in a text message. “We are working with the health department, planning additional testing sites in Coeburn and Wise – approximately 400 additional tests for the region next week – due to COVID demand.”
And those numbers are probably not the whole story.
“There’s been a lot of home testing in the area that isn’t reflected in those numbers and that number at 41% – that’s high,” Tyson said.
Tyson said it’s important people know if they’re positive, so they can isolate and not pass the virus on to others.
More than 4,300 new cases of COVID-19 have been identified in the 10 counties and two cities in far southwest Virginia in the past seven days — maintaining a trend that began in early January. More than 11,500 cases of COVID have been diagnosed in Southwest Virginia so far in January.
These record rates are also translating into hospitalizations. Ballad Health System reported 381 hospitalized patients Monday at its northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia facilities, the most this year and the most since mid-September. Seventy-six patients are being treated in intensive care units and 48 are on ventilators. There are eight pediatric patients at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.
Ballad’s single-day record is 413 hospitalized COVID patients, set last September 8. They expect totals to approach that number in the coming days.
“The rapid rate of growth in omicron cases is expected to peak in the region in about a week, likely keeping hospitalizations in the 400 range,” according to forecast information released last week by Ballad Health. “However, depending on how the growth of cases this week evolves, we could potentially top 400 for a few days over the coming week.”
Trends show that omicron is generally a milder disease than the delta variant that preceded it.
“Ballad Health’s initial comparison of hospitalizations during the omicron period versus delta hospitalizations indicates a 25% reduction in intensive care utilization and a 30% shorter overall hospital stay,” according to the document. .
Last week, Ballad treated an average of 349 hospitalized patients per day, plus nearly 300 additional COVID patients per day through its Safe at Home monitoring program.
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