Health care providers in Northeast Georgia said Wednesday they are seeing a record number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and officials expect those numbers to rise in the coming weeks
On Tuesday, 181 patients with confirmed cases were in the health system's hospitals and long-term care facilities, a record number since the pandemic began in March. Most of those, 106, were at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.
The health system only has two intensive-care units available across all of its facilities, according to its website. Both are in Gainesville.
“Both the percentage of tests coming back positive and the number of people who need to be admitted to the hospital have been steadily climbing all month – to (Tuesday's) record high for the system,” Clifton Hastings, chief of the medical staff for the health system, said Wednesday. “We’re headed for a new peak and the only question is, how high will this peak be?”
Longstreet Clinic saw its rolling seven-day positivity rate for COVID-19 surpass 17 percent on Tuesday, after having seen the rate drop below 10 percent in October.
“These numbers are troubling not only because they show the virus’ increased spread in our community, but because they are once again threatening to adversely impact our health care system,” Marti Gibbs, president of Longstreet Clinic and member of its family medicine practice. “While we know more about the virus today and have more treatment options than we did in the spring, it remains important to stay vigilant and take actions that minimize our risk of exposure while we await widespread availability of a vaccine.”
Gibbs said she expects these numbers to continue rising over the next several weeks because of Thanksgiving gatherings.
“Our collective efforts helped to flatten the curve in the spring and will be critical to doing so again this winter." she said. "While the majority of COVID-19 infections are treated on an outpatient basis by providers across the community including our Longstreet Clinic team, the dwindling number of hospital beds is concerning for our most serious cases.”
Health officials also expect an increase in the number of people asking for coronavirus tests over the next few weeks, as people want to make sure it is safe to be with family during the Christmas.
“We absolutely want people who think they’re sick to get tested so they can take precautions to protect others, but we also want to avoid premature testing that gives people a false sense of security,” said Bobby Norris, vice president of operations for Northeast Georgia Physicians Group.
Officials said test kits are more readily available now than they were at the onset of the pandemic, but they stressed that testing supplies are still limited. Also, most patients wait two to three days for test results.
Health care officials and business leaders have been urging residents for months to follow the Three W's: wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.
But the health system said getting tested before visiting family is no guarantee against the virus. Because of the delay in getting results, people who are tested could still be exposed to the virus at any time after taking the test.
Officials said people should still take precautions and plan lower risk activities like small events for just their household or virtual gatherings so they can visit with family and friends remotely.
“We know people are tired of hearing about wearing masks, washing hands and watching their distance,” Hastings said. “Trust me, our nurses, doctors and other staff are tired, too. But those are the only actions that can limit the spread of the virus. The entire spirit of the holidays is to think about others first and doing whatever you can to help them, so I hope everyone really takes that to heart and protects the people they love the most.”
Healthcare experts encourage people to avoid large gatherings and to get a flu shot if you have not already done so.
“The health and well-being of our staff and patients remain our priority as we continue to see patients for their medical needs both in our offices and via telehealth,” said Mimi Collins, CEO of Longstreet Clinic.
You can find more information about testing here.