Even though there are some positive signs when it comes to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis in North Georgia, the President and CEO of Northeast Georgia Health System said Tuesday "now is not a time to sit back and relax."
Carol Burrell led a group of officials from NGHS participating in a community webinar about the pandemic. She and others acknowledged that the hospital is not as stressed now with hospitalized coronavirus patients compared to April and May, but Burrell said the growing number of positive test results since last month is a concern.
"We've got to really focus on wearing our masks, doing the distancing," Burrell said. "It's still unpredictable. We don't know what the fall is going to hold or, candidly, even what the rest of the summer is going to hold."
Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, Infectious Disease Medical Director, and Dr. Clifton Hastings, Chief of Staff, offered promising information about the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at NGHS facilities, but both issued warnings to the community about remaining vigilant, especially as confirmed cases reached the 100,000 mark in Georgia Tuesday afternoon.
"What we're looking at is just not the total number of positives, but also the percentage of positives from the total tested," Mannepalli said. "[Locally] in the earlier part of June, that positive rate went down to five- to seven-percent, which was an improvement, and we were hoping that would continue [but] we're now seeing 12- to 14-percent, and some days 16-percent, of the total tests are coming back positive."
The increase, according to Mannepalli, is not just a reflection of increased testing, but it also represents an uptick in the number of people who are getting sick.
Mannepalli said more young people are contracting the illness, and while they are able to battle the virus without hospitalization, there's a concern they will infect those who are medically fragile, and that could put more stress on hospital space. Hastings agreed with her assessment.
"We do see increased infection in our younger population, and they're not requiring the hospitalization that the older patients have," Hastings said. "Any increase in the number of hospitalizations will obviously put more stress on the system. We've kind of plateaued the number of patients for the past six weeks or so."
With the reduced number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization, that means those patients are largely separated from other patients and very few are in ICU.
Mannepalli said she has also been encouraged by the use of the anti-viral drug Remdesivir for the sickest patients, but getting an adequate supply of the medication has been a challenge.
"We have received a certain amount of supply from [Georgia] Public Health at this point and I hope we have continued supply," Mannepalli said. "But I just got an update today from pharmacy that if we continue to use it at the current rate, we have enough for patients for the next two to three weeks."
With the limited supply of the anti-viral medicaton, that's another reason to keep as many people out of the hospital as possible, according to Mannepalli; the way to do that, she said, is with basic health protocols - hand washing, social distancing and the wearing of face coverings.
Follow this link for the latest NGHS patient data.
Tuesday's webinar was coordinated by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.