ALBANY, Ga. - Georgia hospitals are closely watching the outbreak unfolding at Albany's Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.
The hospital system's CEO Scott Steiner says they've been coping with a constant stream of patients with coronavirus symptoms arriving at Phoebe's emergency department, many very ill.
The hospitals intensive care units are full, and the staff is caring for coronavirus patients on 5 floors of the hospital.
"Look, people are tired," Steiner says. "They're weary. You can see it in their eyes."
Albany, a city of about 75,000 in southwest Georgia, is about month into an outbreak that shows no sign of peaking.
As of Thursday, 751 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at Phoebe, and 35 patients at the main hospital and Phoebe Sumter have died of complications of the virus.
The two hospitals have 70 inpatients with COVID-19 and another 92 hospitalized and waiting on their test results.
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Steiner says Phoebe just opened a seventh COVID-19 unit and a fourth ICU.
And the number of infected and dying keeps rising.
"Our job is to keep people alive, keep people healthy, and get them back into whatever it: their job, their families,” he says. “So, anytime anyone passes away, it can feel like a loss, it can feel like a failure. That weighs heavy on our team and heavy on our nurses.
Steiner says they’ve been wearing protective masks, gowns and gloves for weeks.
"I'd love to try to tell you we're on the downslope, and we're moving this out of southwest Georgia, but we're not there yet," he says.
Steiner says he has spoken to friends and colleagues at other hospitals, from Washington State to New York City to Chicago.
All, he says, are struck by the same thing: how quickly the outbreak escalated.
"We saw it in China. We saw it developing in Italy and in other parts of Europe. We thought, ‘Okay, it might come here, and we'll do this, and we'll do that.’ And one day it was here, and by the third day, we were feeling overwhelmed. So, it was so fast.”
And, it’s not just the speed of the outbreak that stands out, Steiner says, but how quickly patients can go from sick to critical.
"We’ve never seen so many patients come into the emergency room and need to go right into the ICU," Steiner says. "That's been probably been the biggest revelation, is the speed and the critical nature. Those that are sick, that are really sick, I mean they are really sick.”
Still, there are signs of hope at Phoebe.
115 patients have recovered.
Steiner says 6 critical patients have come off the ventilator.
Three have gone home, including a man who had been critically ill at one point.
“He was discharged on Tuesday, and the staff were cheering as he was walking down the hall to go home." Steiner says. "So that just shows you the heavy burden that it is on them, that they also recognize that the joy, when somebody can walk away.”
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