COVID-19 patients fill Georgia hospitals as cases soar

Data released on Monday show a more than 70% increase in both confirmed and suspected coronavirus cases in Georgia over the past week as hospitals report more COVID-19 patients.

The number of hospital beds being used for coronavirus patients increased to more than 2,500, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health as of Monday afternoon. That’s below the summer peak of 3,200, but more than double the most recent low point in mid-October.

State officials said they have been able to absorb the increase in patients up to this point, but Monday 19 hospitals told the state their intensive care units could accept no more patients, including four smaller hospitals in the Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare system, the main Emory University hospital, Augusta University Medical Center, both University Hospital locations in Augusta and Coliseum Medical Center in Macon.

“We are effectively reversing the gains we made after the summer surge,” wrote Amber Schmidtke, an epidemiologist who prepares a daily report on COVID-19 in Georgia.

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A handful of hospitals were accepting no new patients of any kind, and others said they were getting full. Northeast Georgia Health system listed 31 beds available Monday across its four-hospital system.

Hastings said his concerns have been on the staffing and bed capacity for the hospital in what he has called a “constant battle to stay afloat.” Hospital officials are trying to cancel or delay surgeries.

At least two Piedmont system hospitals have banned visitors for patients, citing the rise in COVID-19 cases.

“We’re close to the point where we’re going to either have to send patients elsewhere or come up with some different ideas,” said Dr. Clifton Hastings, Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s chief of medical staff, told The Times of Gainesville last week. “We’ve stretched and built about as much as we can.”

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Grady Health System, which has been tasked by the state to run the non-critical overflow temporary hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center, said they are in a standby mode as of Monday. There have not been any patients at the facility for months, but it can be activated and readied if necessary.

The facility has a 120-patient capacity for non-critical COVID-19 patients.

The average number of new infections has averaged more than 5,000 confirmed and suspected cases each day for the past week. Even just the confirmed cases, based off molecular PCR tests, are now above the high set on July 24, when hospitals statewide were groaning with cases and schools were pushing off the start of the academic year because of the high number of infections. The GDPH said as of Monday afternoon, the state added 4,875 new confirmed cases bringing the total to 448,683 since the start of the pandemic.

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Despite the rapid rise, Georgia still ranks only 44th among the states for the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days, because cases are spreading so rapidly everywhere else. Still, the Georgia Department of Public Health rates 60% of Georgia’s counties as having high transmission.

Not everyone shows symptoms, and most people recover, but a small fraction sicken and die. Georgia is likely to record its 10,000th confirmed or suspected death from COVID-19 sometime this week. On Monday, the death total stood at 9,851. The state passed 500,000 confirmed or suspected infections on Sunday.

The GDPH said there have been 9,007 confirmed deaths and another 844 probable deaths from the virus as of Monday.

Testing has also increased. In the past month, more than 17% of all reported tests were conducted, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported. As of Monday afternoon, the state reports more than 4.5 million PCR tests have been administered with another 371,077 antibodies tests.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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