We have all witnessed COVID-19 cases rise over the last month across our entire country, and unfortunately, within our region. For the first time since February, we are seeing 100,000 new cases per day countrywide. It is certainly disappointing and worrisome, but we do have powerful weapons to combat the virus even now. We have discussed them over the course of the last year-and-a-half, but we are also offering an advanced treatment for the virus to eligible patients.

The new COVID-19 Delta variant raised the stakes considerably, because it is significantly more contagious than other versions, and causes more severe symptoms. It’s critical to remember that the COVID-19 vaccine has proven to be highly effective in preventing this disease. Just like with the flu and your yearly vaccine for that, a small percentage of people may still get COVID if you are vaccinated, but your case will not be as severe as it would have been if you were unvaccinated. Those vaccinated are far less likely to be hospitalized or die.

Cases at BRRH have increased compared to a month ago, and continue to climb.

The more people who get vaccinated against COVID-19, the harder it will be for the virus to transform into a new, possibly more severe variant. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people who are now hospitalized with COVID-19 have the Delta variant, and are unvaccinated. Though there have been breakthrough cases — when a vaccinated person contracts the virus — they are accounting for less than 1% of cases in states that are reporting breakthrough case data, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The very real steps that Blue Ridge Regional Hospital (BRRH) is having to take is to return to more stringent visitation rules — currently we are on Level 2 restrictions, which means that one adult visitor is allowed per patient, but anyone who is either awaiting results of a COVID test or being hospitalized with COVID may not receive visitors, as has been the case throughout the pandemic. We are reinstituting ways that COVID-positive patients can visit virtually with their loved ones, as well as through telephone calls.

BRRH is also offering monoclonal antibody treatment now, an advanced treatment for people that are at high risk for suffering serious complications from COVID. This includes those not vaccinated, people with lung conditions like asthma, obese patients, individuals with chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, anyone with a compromised immune system, and people age 65 or older. Patients should speak to their healthcare provider to see if they meet the requirements for this EUA treatment (EUA stands for “emergency use authorization” status granted by the Food and Drug Administration).

Monoclonal antibodies are man-made proteins that behave just like the ones produced by your immune system that are designed to combat infections. They recognize and connect themselves to the spikes on the virus that infect your cells. This slows down the progression of illness, reduces the chance that high-risk patients will suffer serious complications, hastens healing, and reduces the patient’s likelihood that they will spread COVID-19 to others. Amazingly, your body recalls how to make the antibodies you need if you’re exposed to the virus in the future. BRRH is currently offering the EUA REGEN-COV treatment, and we look forward to continuing to provide this much-needed service to our patients in an effort to prevent hospitalization and progression to severe COVID-19.

When a patient receives monoclonal antibody treatment, they simply sit in our infusion area and receive the medication intravenously. The infusion process takes less than half-an-hour, and then the patient stays for another hour so we can monitor them for any negative side effects. The side effects are rare and our staff are trained to treat you should this occur. A patient is typically in and out of the hospital in about 2.5 hours total. The BRRH Infusion Center currently sees patients Monday through Friday, beginning at 8 a.m. Appointments with a provider referral may be made by contacting the Infusion Center Team at (828) 766-3716.

The treatments at BRRH are provided by the Infusion Team in a special area that is currently being used for this purpose only. The patients are escorted into the building through a separate entrance and taken directly to the department. Once the treatment is completed, the patients are then escorted back to their car. Rooms are closed and disinfected according to stringent protocols after every patient. Precautions are taken to ensure patient and team member safety through every step of the process. The dedicated RN staff are working diligently every day to see to it that every possible qualifying patient is seen in a timely manner.

I also want the community to know that we are extending our My Care Now hours, due to the increase in overall Emergency Department visits and COVID patients that we are seeing. These expanded hours mean that patients who may be able to seek treatment at the clinic can be served there, and the ED will be ready to treat patients in urgent need. My Care Now — Spruce Pine has expanded its hours and operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. The clinic’s Saturday hours will remain 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and it will remain closed on Sundays.

Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Hale is a proven leader with more than 32 years of progressive healthcare experience. A native of East Tennessee, she holds an associate’s degree in nursing from Walters State Community College, a baccalaureate degree in nursing from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree in organizational management from Tusculum University, and a doctor of nursing practice degree in executive leadership from East Tennessee State University. Ms. Hale is currently a resident of Burnsville.

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