As coronavirus cases surge, Georgia hospitals see large jump in patients

Georgia coronavirus hospitalizations continue to surge, as some medical centers warn they are nearing capacity.

Friday afternoon, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 3,135 current COVID-19 hospitalizations, including 399 new patients who have been hospitalized over the previous 24 hours.

Emory Saint Joseph's hospitalist Dr. Ingrid Pinzon, who has been assigned to a COVID-19 unit at her Atlanta facility, says they are seeing more patients now than they were in March, at the height of the early coronavirus outbreak in Georgia.

"It's critical," Dr. Pinzon says.  "It's getting worse and worse and worse, and people don't believe it's happening."

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Microbiologist Dr. Amber Schmidkte is seeing the same jump in hospitalizations, but on the graphs, Schmidtke uses to track the Georgia outbreak for her newsletter and a new podcast, "Public Health for the People."

"This week, we saw that multiple hospitals were above 90% capacity for their critical care beds, and that is a cause for concern," Schmidtke says.

 Some hospital regions, Schmidtke says, are down to just a handful of available ICU beds.

In region "H," a geographically large area that includes Dublin in east-central Georgia, only 3 of 40 critical care beds are available. 

In region "L," which that includes Tifton and runs along the Florida border, just 4 of 73 available ICU beds are open.

"Of course, we don't get any data on whether those are being occupied by COVID patients, or just general patients for other reasons, but it limits our ability to cope with a surge in patients or hospitalizations," Schmidtke says.

As of Thursday, July 23, 2020, 43% of Georgia's ventilators were in use.

The biggest jump in new COVID-19 infections is occurring in the eastern half of Georgia,

where, in some counties, Schmidtke says, the number of new infections has doubled over the last two weeks.

Yet, there might be one sign of good news, Schmidtke says. 

Over the last few days, the number of newly reported cases statewide seems to be starting to plateau, she says.

"That may be real, or it may not be real, because we're having such backlogs in testing right now," Schmidtke says.  "But if it is real, that maybe shows us that human behavior is playing a role in cutting down transmission."

It may be a sign, Schmidtke says, Georgians are heeding the call to wear face masks and social distance.

"If that is what's driving that plateau, first of all, kudos to everybody for doing what they can to reduce their transmission," she says.  "Keep doing it."

Know how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting Georgia

Back at Emory Saint Joseph's, Dr. Pinzon says the mortality rate associated with this novel coronavirus is low, but the virus is unpredictable. 

Some people do fine, she says, while others get very sick, very quickly.

Dr. Pinzon has been working overtime, trying to warn Atlanta's Latino community about the risks of the virus, and how to protect themselves.

Until a vaccine or cure is developed, she says, we're all at risk of contracting the virus.

So, Dr. Pinzon says, wear a mask, and be careful.

"If you love yourself, if you love your family, please do it," she says.  "Let's everybody do it."

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