GAINESVILLE, Ga. - At Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, the patients just keep coming, and the numbers keep climbing.
Between Northeast Georgia Health System's four hospitals, there were 321 COVID-19-positive inpatients, including 200 at the Gainesville hospital.
Dr. John Delzell, a vice president and the COVID-19 incident commander for Northeast Georgia Health System, says the hospital and his health system are stressed.
"Some of our critical care doctors are working 12, 13, 14 days in a row," Delzell says. "That's just physically and mentally and emotionally exhausting. I think that's true as well for our nursing staff. We've asked them to work more. We've asked them to pick up extra shifts, and I think everybody is just physically tired."
As Georgia COVID-19 cases rise, ICU beds are almost 100% full
Just over 96% of Georgia's ICU beds are full, and 4 of the state's 16 hospital regions have no available critical care beds.
To keep up with the demand, the hospital is turning regular inpatient beds into critical care beds.
As of Wednesday, 117 of their ICU beds were full, and just 11 still available, although Dr. Delzell say there were at least 4 patients in the emergency department waiting for a bed.
The hospital system is using 83% of its ventilators, and the state is sending more.
Delzell says the delta variant has not only impacted their numbers, but those coming in with the virus seem to be getting sicker faster.
Northeast Georgia Health System says 83% of its COVID-positive inpatients and 95% its patients who are critically ill are not vaccinated.
"I think it's sad," Dr. Delzell says. "I think what ends up happening a lot of times is people are in the hospital. They see the light, and people are, like, 'Man, I wish I had gotten vaccinated.' At that point, a lot of times, it's too late for them, if people are getting really sick."
What happens if ICU beds fill up?
Delzell says if the state's ICU beds fill up completely, as they have in neighboring Alabama, there may be no place for critically ill Georgians to go.
"And, it's not just COVID," Delzell says. "I think one of the things it's easy to forget is that we're worried about COVID all the time, but if you think about a patient who comes in and has a heart attack, and there's no beds available, there's no ICU beds, that person is impacted as well."
Until more people get vaccinated, Delzell says, this may be the new normal.
"The thing I'm worried about is this isn't the last wave," he says. "This is going to go away over the next couple of months, and then it's going to come back."
Delzell says the only way to stem the tide is for more people to get vaccinated.
In Georgia, 44% of residents are fully vaccinated.
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