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Ballad: Don't panic over coronavirus

Hank Hayes • Mar 5, 2020 at 10:49 AM

KINGSPORT — Prepare. Don't panic.

That was the main message on Wednesday from Ballad Health officials on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that hasn't reached Northeast Tennessee or Southwest Virginia.

"I've been through this a number of times. Never once has panic helped the problem," said Ballad Health Executive Chairman, President and CEO Alan Levine.

One person has been tested for the coronavirus, Levine said. The test result was negative, according to a Thursday morning media advisory. There have been no positive COVID-19 cases identified in Ballad Health facilities.

Levine previously served as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and also served as secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration under then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

Levine said that over the past two days he has held a number of conference calls and meetings with Eastman, school superintendents, city managers, first responders, East Tennessee State University and county mayors on the health care provider's preparedness plan.

"In a region like ours, it's important that we're aligned with our regional leaders, our mayors, the health departments in Southwest Virginia and Tennessee," Levine said.

Levine said Ballad is focused on its continuity of operations if or when the coronavirus comes to the region.

He noted this has been the busiest flu season he's ever seen.

"If you have a surge (in one disease) ... it then becomes a crowding out of all the other services that are needed," Levine told reporters. "The absolute best surveillance you can have is in the community. The number one thing is to identify cases as they arise. Number two, isolate and three provide treatment ... if you have (coronavirus) symptoms, the best thing you can do is self-isolate."

Levine encouraged the public to look at the Centers for Disease Control website and states' Department of Health website, in addition to Ballad Health's website.

Levine pointed out Ballad Health has a nursing shortage, is concerned about its supplies and making sure the public has access to its institutions.

"The risk of (coronavirus) spread is low in our region," Levine said. "I'm not aware that there are any cases in Tennessee. I don't think there are in Virginia, either."

If Ballad Health does see potential coronavirus cases, the health system can test for other respiratory diseases, but the Virginia and Tennessee departments of health would be the point-of-contact for coronavirus testing, according to Levine.

If a test is positive and the patient comes into Ballad Health's system, Levine said that person would be isolated in one facility. He didn't say which facility would be used.

The best preventive measure, Ballad Health officials said, is washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and hot water.

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