Northeast Georgia Health System leaders are optimistic about the decreasing number of COVID patients in their hospitals, but they don’t want the community to let their guard down yet.
In a virtual meeting with the Hall County Area Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 23, NGHS President and CEO Carol Burrell noted the number of positive COVID patients has steadily decreased over the past few weeks.
As of March 1, NGHS had 101 positive COVID patients with 26 at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton. That’s down from the week prior, when NGHS had 109 COVID patients with 67 at NGMC Braselton.
Those numbers have also been steadily decreasing since mid-January, when the total number of COVID patients at NGHS was steadily topping 300. The totals at NGHS dropped below 100 on Feb. 25 for the first time since early November.
“We are very thankful to start to see our numbers coming down in the hospitals,” said Burrell. “They’ve been falling steadily over the last few weeks. And we’ve hit a couple of new milestones, going in the right direction (for a change).”
During the recent spike, NGHS struggled with capacity and utilized non-traditional spaces for patient care.
“We were taking care of patients in the gym at Laurelwood. We had patients that were being seen in the hallways and in ambulances,” said incident commander John Delzell. “We were really being stretched to our utmost at that point.”
With the recent drop in numbers, the hospital system has closed down that additional bed space in the gym and has been able to reduce the number of patients placed in the NGMC Gainesville mobile medical unit, Delzell added.
NGHS also previously requested a mobile morgue from the state, which they’ve been able to send back.
“The great news is, we haven’t had to use that anymore,” Delzell said, noting the number of daily deaths has been declining.
Burrell noted the hospital staff have been relieved by the recent decreases in COVID patient totals.
“There is definitely a bit of decompression among our staff,” she said.
NGHS has also been working to administer vaccinations to its staff members since December, and is also administering vaccinations to community members who are eligible to get vaccinated.
But Burrell stressed the community should still continuing wearing masks, washing hands and practicing social distancing.
“That, along with the vaccine, is what is going to ultimately conquer this,” said Burrell.
Three vaccines have also been approved for emergency use in the United States, the most recent being the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Those vaccines were the main topic of the virtual Chamber meeting.
Zachary Taylor, Director of District 2 Public Health, said the lack of vaccine supply continues to be the main issue.
Each week, the state is given a number of vaccines, which it then allocates to over 1,000 vaccine providers across the state, Taylor noted.
“Because the demand exceeds the supply right now, most providers (or probably all providers) don’t get as much as they actually order,” he added.
The recent severe weather in Texas added to the problem, interrupting the vaccine shipment schedule, just as a surge of second dose appointments was coming in.
Taylor said local providers are poised to schedule more appointments for first doses and vaccinate more people in the community once vaccines become available.
“As we get more vaccine, we’re in a great position to vaccinate more people,” said Taylor. “But it really depends right now on the supply of vaccine that we have available.”
Hall County has administered 52,425 vaccinations. NGHS has administered 10,774 vaccinations to its employees and 11,566 vaccines to the community.
In Braselton’s other counties, there have been:
•Barrow: 6,874 vaccines administered
•Gwinnett: 86,338 vaccines administered
•Jackson: 5,139 vaccines administered