As COVID-19 hospitalizations rise, microbiologist warns pandemic-weary Georgians not to let up their guard

For nearly 3 years, microbiologist Amber Schmidtke has been tracking the COVID-19 outbreak in Georgia, for followers of her online newsletter, focusing on things like the daily case counts and the number of people testing positive on PCR tests.

"So, it's interesting right now because I feel like we can't really rely on case data so much anymore because so many people have, you know, mentally moved on from this pandemic, and they aren't getting tested anymore," Schmidtke says.

These days she is tracking daily hospitalization rates and ICU and ventilator use to see how Georgia is being impacted.

On January 11, 2023, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 1,833 patients statewide hospitalized with  confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections.

The DPH says 82% ICU beds and 28% of adult ventilators are in use.

'What it's showing us is a lot of regions are surging throughout the state of Georgia when it comes to patient census," Schmidtke says.

The division chair of the University of Saint Mary departments of natural sciences and mathematics says there is still concern the US could be hit by a tripledemic this winter, with RSV, flu and COVID-19 infections all driving people into the hospital at one time.  

But so far, Schmidtke says, the viral surges have been spread out.

"We first saw a big surge with RSV, and then that waned, and then influenza took its turn and had a big, big spike, but that's on the decline now," Schmidtke explains.  "And, right now, it's COVID's turn. So COVID is rising, just as it did last year and the year before. We know that the winter time is when COVID really makes its play."

Schmidtke says do what you can to avoid getting sick.
If you haven't received the updated bivalent booster, now is a great time to get one.

"The other thing is just be real careful about being in indoor settings, especially in crowds or with people that you don't know," she says.

In congested areas, Schmidtke says, wear a high quality mask like at N95 or KN95, and try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

"Really just kind of avoid being around people who are sick," she says.  "If you, especially if you are immunocompromised, or you know that you would be at a heightened risk of complications from COVID 19."