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Are we doing all we can to limit the spread of COVID-19? With more than 200 hospitalized coronavirus patients, Ballad Health is deferring a percentage of elective procedures at Kingsport, with similar action pending at its Bristol and Johnson City hospitals, even as its nursing staff is stretched thin from a shortage that was in place before the pandemic.

The situation, Ballad Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift said recently, is “dire” as Sullivan County infection rates demonstrate. For the month of September, the county recorded 616 new cases, about 20.5 cases per day. But for October, the county added 1,835 new cases, about 59 per day.

To cope, Ballad is hiring part-time and contract workers and has instituted a temporary 15% pay increase to nurses and other direct-care providers. But adding to the problem is that about 180 employees are in isolation or quarantine. About 94% of Ballad’s medical and surgical beds and 88% of intensive care beds are full.

“To be quite frank,” Swift said, “our region is in a really bad place in this pandemic.” She said the virus is “truly widespread,” and that it’s “past time that we adjust our behaviors as a community.”

“We are asking everyone to step up,” Swift said. “A lot of you are trying ... honestly, a lot, and just trying is not going to get us through this at this point. We need our entire community to do everything that we can.”

What more can we do? The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Reported child sleepovers and adult large gatherings have contributed to the local surge, according to reports. Common sense argues against such activities.

But as well, we’ve gotten careless. We were behind an individual entering a grocery recently without a mask and heard him tell the employee at the door that he had the virus and had gotten over it and was immune.

Maybe. Maybe not.

We’re all tired of wearing masks, but we must stick to recommendations to use them, to wash our hands, to keep hand sanitizer in the car and use it whenever we come back from shopping.

Avoid crowds. Keep your distance. Experts say any exposure to others is too much. They recommend staying not 6 feet, but 16 feet, behind someone. Clean and disinfect your surfaces and objects, stay home as much as possible, and stay away from older friends and relatives.

Yes, it’s hard. But we’ve got to keep these safety practices up until we have a vaccine.

Hopefully, that’s months and not years from now.

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