(TNS) - The medical community issued a stark warning this week as COVID-19 hospitalizations have spiked since the Thanksgiving holiday and a continued wave is anticipated from Christmas and New Year's celebrations.
And this time, unlike the first wave of infections in the spring, there is no relief valve of sister hospitals to which patients can be diverted, as other regional health care facilities also are swamped.
Dr. James Black, director of emergency medicine at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, and Dougherty County Emergency Medical Services Director Sam Allen pleaded with the public to be smart by avoiding large gatherings and continuing safety measures, including wearing masks and good hygiene.
They were among the speakers during a news conference giving an update on the current impact of the disease in the community. Conspicuously absent from that meeting was Albany Mayor Bo Dorough. Dorough, city officials explained, had been exposed to the virus and was in self-quarantine. He was later tested for the virus, and test results were negative.
Through Friday, there had been 212 deaths of residents who were positive for the novel coronavirus, Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler. The coroner was investigating another nearly 10 suspected cases of residents who died outside the county, and he said he was awaiting additional information from the Georgia Department of Public Health on fatalities at other locations.
Phoebe saw a significant spike in the number of patients hospitalized after the Thanksgiving holiday, Black said, with the number being treated for COVID-19, including transfers from other facilities, averaging in the mid-20s for some time, Black said. On Friday that number had climbed to the mid-80s, and the number of severely ill patients also has increased.
Community transmission of the virus also has shot up. Recently, of those tested by Phoebe, some 30 percent have been positive, a number not seen since April, Black said. If those current trends continue, the hospital, which has the benefit of a temporary intensive care unit at Phoebe North on Palmyra Road, will be overwhelmed in the coming weeks.
"To make (the latest spike) more concerning, we were able to get cooperation from our neighbors and colleagues" in other hospital systems during the first wave of the virus, Black said. "Now they are facing the same thing we are facing. Our ability to transfer patients to other facilities is basically nonexistent.
"Based on our projections, by late January, early February, we could eclipse the numbers we had in April."
Much of the state has significantly more cases than southwest Georgia, which was one of the hardest-hit regions in the state during the initial wave of COVID-19 in the spring.
The rest of the nation also is being slammed. Los Angeles County, Calif., reported two record days of deaths over the previous week, and funeral homes there are unable to keep up with the volume of victims as the situation is expected to worsen in coming weeks.
In addition to the strain on staff and supplies, hospitals in L.A. have reported being unable to maintain sufficient oxygen in aging pipes to supply all of the patients who are being assisted with breathing.
A new mutation of the virus, thought to be more easily transmissible than the original one, also has been confirmed in California, Florida and Texas.
Nationwide, the number of total cases surpassed 20 million in recent days, and deaths were at nearly 350,000, approaching the number of around 400,000 U.S. service members killed during the four years of World War II.
"We have a tremendous strain being placed on our hospital," Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said. "If we continue on this path, we are going to be at capacity at Phoebe North by mid-January."
The community has its destiny in its hands and can reverse the trend by continuing the efforts that helped reduce transmission during the initial onslaught, Cohilas said, by taking measures to protect themselves and others.
"I don't want to be in the position we were in in March, April and May where we had to request an emergency morgue," he said. "I don't want to be there. But we have to take action. We have to be responsible.
"Pandemics are not like a hurricane, it's not like a tornado. It does not have a (measurable) beginning and end."
(c)2021 The Albany Herald, Ga.
Visit The Albany Herald, Ga. at www.albanyherald.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.