Hospitals in Southeast Georgia feel strained as COVID cases soar


To describe the current wave of COVID, hospital leaders in South Georgia are using strong words, such as “scary,” “scared” and “overwhelmed.”

This story also appeared in Georgia Health News

The state’s COVID-19 map shows most of the hottest spots for the latest wave of cases are in the southern part of Georgia. And some hospital officials in the region say the impact is worse than the three previous COVID outbreaks.

“This is really bad,” Robin Rau, CEO of Miller County Hospital in southwest Georgia, said Thursday. This push “seems worse than the others. We were overwhelmed so quickly. ”

Statewide, daily reported cases have been steadily increasing, a trend that was sparked by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Public health officials on Thursday reported nearly 6,000 new cases, with hospitalizations for COVID surpassing 2,900 statewide, up from 1,000 last week.

Georgia Department of Public Health, August 5

A look at vaccination rates in South Georgia counties that have reddish undertones on the state’s COVID public health map (indicating high infection rates) reveals that all are below average for the state of 41% of residents vaccinated. A few counties, in fact, are as low as 22%.

Hospital officials say widespread shortages of hospital staff are exacerbating the crisis.

“Every hospital in Georgia is sorely understaffed,” Rau said Thursday. “And now we have such a poorly vaccinated state. “

“Somehow we have to convince the general public that they are causing this” by not getting vaccinated, she added.

She said the COVID pandemic, which dates back to early 2020 in the United States, has been “like an injury that will not heal.”

Southeast Georgia’s health system, meanwhile, is begging community members for immunizations.

Southeast Georgia Health System, Brunswick Campus

“We are tired and out of breath,” said Jan Jones, director of patient care services for the system, which operates hospitals in the coastal counties of Glynn and Camden. “As soon as a patient comes out of our intensive care unit, or worse, has died, there is another patient to put in that bed. It’s like a revolving door that we can’t stop.

She told GHN on Thursday that “patients get sicker faster. They are sicker than the first outbreak. Their conditions are deteriorating rapidly. ”

Brunswick Hospital has passed its pandemic peak of intensive care patients and is now at 24. Inpatients are on average younger than in other waves of COVID, Jones said.

“I’ve had people in their twenties and thirties on the vents [ventilators] fight for their lives, ” she said. “Not all are vaccinated. The system’s Camden Hospital intensive care unit is also full.

Staffing “is a huge challenge,” Jones said. The latest increase “is a huge strain on nurses, respiratory therapists and the lab.”

This wave of COVID is worse than the rest, she said. “It’s more aggressive and spreads quickly. “

The Clinch Memorial Hospital in Homerville is seeing a similar increase in COVID patients, including children.

Angela Ammon

“We are already having difficulty getting patients out of our facility who need a higher level of care,” said hospital CEO Angela Ammons. The hospital’s head nurse “called more than 20 hospitals to discharge an intensive care patient on Wednesday and was unsuccessful,” Ammons said.

Some vaccinated staff have contracted COVID, she added. Such “revolutionary” cases of infection are rare, accounting for 0.1 percent of Georgians who have been vaccinated.

Ammons posted a PSA video urging people to get vaccinated.

“Our retail pharmacy has been busy administering vaccines to the public, most of whom were fiercely opposed to getting the vaccine before,” she told GHN.

“We are preparing for the worst and really don’t know what to expect. I have full confidence in my team here to handle any situation given to us, but there is a new level of fear that I have never seen before among them. ”

Worrisome trends

In Albany, where cases of COVID flooded Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital at the start of the pandemic, the number of virus-infected patients hospitalized has increased rapidly.

“Of the 18 patients admitted on Monday, 17 were unvaccinated,” Phoebe Putney spokesman Ben Roberts said. All hospitals in the region are badly affected, he said.

“Here we are again,” he said. “It’s scary to think of where this could go. “

“Hospitalizations have not increased as quickly since the early days of the pandemic,” Roberts said.

Scott Steiner, CEO of Phoebe, has called the latest wave “COVID-21”.

“It’s disheartening to know that we could have stopped COVID if more people had been vaccinated,” Steiner said. “When the pandemic started, there wasn’t much we could do except wash our hands, get away from it socially, and wear masks around others. The vaccine gave us a way out, but we missed our opportunity, and now hospitals across the state are filling again with COVID-19 patients. ”

Demand for vaccines is increasing

Louisiana, reeling from the spike in cases, has seen higher demand for vaccinations, CNN reported.

Dr Charles Ruis

This same trend has occurred in the health district which covers 14 counties in southwest Georgia. “Our vaccine numbers have increased over the past 10 days to two weeks,” said Dr Charles Ruis, district health director. “We are seeing high school kids coming in” to get the pictures, he said. “We are happy that some people have changed their minds.”

The impact in South Georgia, meanwhile, almost mirrors the explosion of the case in North Florida.

“Viruses don’t pay attention to borders,” said Colin Smith, Georgia State University public health expert.

“A lot of people who live or work in South Georgia live or work in Alabama or the Florida Panhandle. Lots of people took part in Independence Day or pre-school trips from rural Georgia to Destin or Panama City, ”Smith said.

” These places [in Florida] have not engaged in any masking or social distancing requirements indoors, and the South Georgia resident population is less well vaccinated than those in urban areas or even some of the vast suburban areas of northern Georgia. Even though unvaccinated people from South Georgia did not visit what were then Delta Variant hotspots in July, they have been in contact with people who have visited for the past 3 weeks. “, did he declare.

A doctor from South Georgia, Dr Zita Magloire of Cairo, called the local COVID situation “terrible”. Worse than ever. ”

His remedy? “Get vaccinated, wear masks, social distancing.”

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