Health officials are hopeful as Georgia COVID-19 hospitalizations trend downward

COVID-19 hospitalizations are trending down nationwide, Georgia included.

State health officials reported 3,321 patients in the hospital with the deadly virus. That's about 20% of all patients in Georgia hospitals.

The Chief Medical Officer for the Grady Health System, Dr. Robert Jansen says they have 94 patients at Grady, plus 22 at The World Congress Center. He says, "These are the lowest numbers we've had really since the end of last year."

And while Dr. Jansen says these numbers are something to celebrate, he says it doesn't mean you should let your guard down. That's because he says, "at this point, we still have more patients than we did maximum in July and August, so we have a long way to go."

WATCH: Georgia World Congress Center Reopens

In the summer of 2020, hospitalizations peaked in July with roughly 3,200 patients. The numbers trended down since then but started to rise again toward the end of November. Dr. Jansen says he thinks the holidays had a big impact on the increase.

"I think it was just a perfect storm in November, December that led to this significant increase in cases," he says. Dr. Jansen credited holiday gatherings combined with the colder weather to people moving indoors and spreading the virus.

When asked about the upcoming summer holidays, usually filled with July 4th celebrations, barbeques, and vacations, Dr. Jansen said he thinks what happens with COVID-19 will depend heavily on how many people health officials can get vaccinated before then.

He says he is hopeful that by the time summer arrives, "people will be able to do things more normally, but I don't think we're going to be completely back to normal." He goes on to say, "I think COVID is going to be here for a long time. We're going to have to continuously be on guard."

READ: U.S. pharmacies, grocery stores to receive a million doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week

So what can you do while you wait for your vaccine in the coming months? Dr. Jansen says you should follow the measures that are proven to work.

  • Wash your hands
  • Keep your distance
  • Wear a face mask

The CDC issued new guidelines today on face masks. The health agency says it endorses 'double masking' and now recommends people wear a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask. The new guidance comes from a recent lab experiment that found placing a cloth mask over a surgical mask was about 95% effective in decreasing exposure to potentially infectious aerosols.

WATCH: CDC releases new mask-wearing guidelines

Dr. Jansen says he agrees with the new guidance but says it comes with a caveat. "If we make it too difficult, people are going to stop trying. Although ideally, yes, everyone would wear a disposable mask and then a cloth mask, or something over that. But if we could just get everybody to mask, we would be in good shape."

FOX 5 also spoke with Dr. Jansen about the recovery rates over the last year. He says the percentage of people recovering now from Grady is actually higher than what it was last summer. He credits the optimistic data by saying "we've gotten better at treating people. We know how to do it."

While ICU capacity remains relatively high across Georgia at 86.1%, Dr. Jansen says the decrease in ICU capacity usually comes a while after hospitalizations decrease. "Our critical care use is high, even as the numbers come down. That usage stays elevated and I anticipate it will for the next week or two, and then hopefully we will start seeing that decline."

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