ATLANTA - Several metro Atlanta hospitals say they are seeing a record surge in COVID-19 patients this month, much higher than the first surge they experienced back in April.
For the second time Monday, Governor Brian Kemp will reopen a hospital unit at the Georgia World Congress Center on Monday, to help ease the strain on hospitals being hit hard by COVID-19.
As of Friday, July 31, 2020, the Georgia Department of Public Health reports 3,155 people are currently hospitalized with complications of the virus, including 386 admitted within the past 24 hours.
Emory Healthcare, which operates 11 hospitals, says the number of patients hospitalized with the virus at its hospitals jumped about 375% in July.
Emory says its current COVID-19 patient numbers are 71% higher than the peak numbers they experienced during the early surge of infections and hospitalizations back in mid-April.
Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., is a public health microbiologist, who is tracking the Georgia outbreak for her newsletter AmberSchmidtkePHD.substack.com and her podcast, "Public Health for the People."
"It looks like current hospitalizations are continuing to level off, but new hospitalizations remain high, meaning that every day there are more patients going into the hospital, and we don't know how long they're staying," Schmidtke says.
The virus seems to be hitting hardest in southeast Georgia and along the Florida border, where some hospital regions are now down to just 3 or 4 open ICU beds, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
Tift Regional Medical Center in South Georgia tells FOX 5 it is on a critical care diversion.
"This means that our Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is currently full and we have to refer patients to other hospitals that have open ICU beds," the health system's Chief Operating Officer Alex Le wrote in a statement to FOX 5.
Schmidtke is concerned that smaller rural hospitals may have less capacity to absorb a rise in patients.
"If a county doesn't have a hospital, that means they're leaning on the hospital of a neighboring county," Schmidtke says. "So, it can snowball really fast, and the demand for those hospital beds can increase really dramatically."
Critical care beds are typically in high demand in Georgia, and intensive care units remain about 80% full.
July 31, 2020 (GEMA)
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency says 86% of ICU beds are full right now, and 43% of the state's 2,850 ventilators are in use.
The Georgia Department of Public Health does not release data on how many of currently-hospitalized patients are COVID-19 patients and how many are hospitalized for other reasons.
Schmidtke has been worried the jump in hospitalizations in early July would lead to a jump in COVID-19 deaths.
About three weeks into the July surge, she says, the number of deaths steadily began to rise.
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July 31, 2020 (GEMA)
By July 31, 2020, 3,752 Georgians have died of complications of the novel coronavirus.
"So, this was predicted," she says. "I think everyone who was predicting it was hoping to be wrong, but, unfortunately, we have not been."
Several hospitals say they are now seeing younger patients, who tend to be healthier and have a lower risk of complications from this virus.
But, in Florida, about 5% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 between the ages of 35 and 44 died from complications of the virus.
So, hospitals are urging Georgians to mask up and stay vigilant.
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