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Roundup: Hospitals See Spike in Emergency Room Admissions; Nursing Homes to Reopen for Visitors

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Nursing homes can reopen for visitation as early as next week

Governor Bill Lee announced limited visitation to nursing homes and long term care facilities can begin on Monday. By the end of this week, all residents in Tennessee’s long-term care facilities and nursing homes will have been tested for COVID-19. Procedures are required to be in place by July 1 for weekly, repeated testing of staff statewide. 

“The devastation that occurs when one of these individuals, a resident in a nursing home or long term care facility, gets infected is incredibly critical,” state health commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said. "Restrictions are important, but social and emotional well-being is also incredibly important.”


It will be up to each facility whether or not to reopen to visitors. Facilities that choose to allow visitation will need to demonstrate that they are complying with state regulations and have had no new positive cases in the last 28 days.


Regional hospitals have seen an increase in emergency room patients being admitted to the hospital


Emergency room visits to regional hospitals have nearly returned to pre-COVID numbers, but a concerning trend is starting to emerge: significantly more emergency room visitors are being admitted into the hospital than before the pandemic. That's according to Dr. Keith Gray, the chief medical officer at UT Medical Center and chair of Knox County's alternative care site planning group.


At the beginning of this year, 34 percent of people visiting emergency rooms were admitted as hospital patients. In the last five days, that number increased to 38 percent, the highest admission rate the hospitals have seen in years. 


“As we reopen for business, we’ve seen that some patients' chronic disease is worse because they were not able to seek direct medical care," Gray said. 


He attributed this, in part, to the anxiety people have about visiting hospitals during the pandemic. Area hospitals are currently testing all patients for COVID-19 before procedures; less than one percent of these tests have come back positive.


While there are only a few weeks of data to consider, the trend may point to a larger, secondary health impact of COVID-19. But Gray clarified the increased hospital admission rates do not negate the importance of earlier decisions to pause elective procedures. 


"The death rate from COVID-19 related illness remains stable in this county, but I cannot make that leap to say that we’ve caused more death by delaying care," Gray said. 


He encouraged anyone who needs medical care to seek it out.  


State-purchased masks deemed safe by the EPA, Knox County resumes distribution


Almost two weeks after halting distribution, Knox County Health Department will begin redistributing face masks. The state of Tennessee spent more than $8 million to purchase masks from North Carolina sock company, Renfro.


News Channel 5 in Nashville reported at the end of May that the masks had been treated with a potentially harmful chemical, Silvadur 930 Flex. The Environmental Protection Agency has since deemed the chemical safe for use in masks. It is also regularly used in manufacturing towels and socks. 


“We did initially pursue some independent testing because we didn’t believe we’d hear back from the EPA in a timely or directive manner. We were pleasantly surprised earlier this week to get a full report of safety from the EPA which we consider to be the gold standard,” Piercey said. “We are canceling our independent testing and are endorsing the use of those masks.”


Knox County Health Department announced Friday it will resume distributing the masks. The free masks are available for pick-up from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the county health department's office, 140 Dameron Ave.



WUOT's Chrissy Keuper contributed to this report