Get vaccinated, wear your mask, stay six feet apart.
That was the clear and urgent message from Madison County Health Department’s Nurse Manager Elizabeth Allen at Monday night’s sparsely attended Board of Commission (BOC) meeting.
Allen gave an update on the sharp increase in COVID-19 numbers in the county over the last two weeks, with approximately 92 percent of those cases fueled by the delta variant of the disease. Allen said there have been 361 positive cases in Madison County the past two weeks, noting that the county’s cases are greater than the state’s average.
“If you were putting that on the level of a population of 100,000 that would be 1,196 cases (Georgia is at 1,126),” she said. “I know we wanna’ win in most things, but we don’t wanna’ win in this.”
She also noted that all of these were reported cases confirmed by medical professionals and does not account for home tests, so the actual count is likely greater. Allen advised that though the home tests are good to have on hand, she would advise anyone who gets a negative on a home test, should follow that up with a PCR test at a doctor’s office or pharmacy. These tests take one to two days to get results.
She said since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 3,415 COVID cases in Madison County alone, with 57 confirmed or “probable” deaths from the disease and roughly 184 hospitalizations.
On vaccines, Allen reported that 37 percent of the county is fully vaccinated, having received both shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and that 42 percent of the county has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
“We need more people to get vaccinated,” Allen said. She said all three vaccines are available at the health department, open Monday through Friday, which is currently offering $10 Walmart gift cards per vaccine (or $20 gift card for the J&J vaccine).
“We want to protect our people; we need to protect our own,” she said.
And she noted that since the Pfizer vaccine’s full FDA approval two weeks ago, the department has seen an uptick in vaccinations, even among the 12-to-16-year old populations.
“They’re coming in to get their school shots, and they’re also getting their COVID vaccines,” she said.
Chairman Todd Higdon asked Allen to explain what “diversion” means when it comes to hospitals.
She said pretty much all hospitals around the county are on diversion, meaning they can’t accept any more patients and that most of those hospitalized with COVID are those who have not been vaccinated against the disease.
“So what do you do, you go to Atlanta, which has pretty much been on diversion for a while and you get diverted again,” she said. “So let’s all do the best you can, get vaccinated, wear a mask, stay six feet apart, if not for you, do it for the community — we love each other, right, at least most of the time.”
She emphasized that the disease process, particularly with the delta variant is “a whole lot more intense” among the unvaccinated.
BOC Chairman Todd Higdon said EMS Director Bobby Smith said among those emergency services transport, the unvaccinated are generally clearly sicker and “will need the ICU,” while the vaccinated generally suffer a shorter, milder illness of three to four days. He said Smith told him they are transporting a more people in the 20-to-50 age group, whereas when the pandemic first began, it was mostly the elderly.
Commissioner Brian Kirk, who is immunocompromised, said he wholeheartedly agreed with the need for the community to be vaccinated and has already received his third vaccine.
“My doctors told me I was unlikely to survive COVID without the vaccine,” he said.
Allen said they are also currently offering booster vaccines, or third shots, to the immunocompromised in the county and expect boosters for the general population to roll out in phases beginning in September.
Asked if any verification was required for the immunocompromised, she said only a signature was needed. “If you tell us you are, we’re going to give you a vaccine,” she said. “We’re here to serve our community.”
Commissioner Terry Chandler asked about education on home care and self-care for those who test positive but don’t require a hospital stay. Allen said while the clinic has been mostly focused on vaccination, they could certainly provide information about that. In an email to The Journal Tuesday, she listed the following 10 things you can do to manage a COVID infection at home. These include: stay home except to get medical care, monitor your symptoms carefully; if your symptoms get worse, call your healthcare provider immediately, get rest and stay hydrated, if you have a medical appointment, call the provider ahead of time and tell them that you have or may have COVID-19, for medical emergencies, call 911 and notify the dispatch personnel that you have or may have COVID-19, cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow, wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, as much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home and use a separate bathroom, if available (if you need to be around other people in or outside of the home, wear a mask), avoid sharing personal items with other people in your household, like dishes, towels and bedding and finally, clean all surfaces that are touched often, like counters, tabletop and doorknobs using household cleaning sprays or wipes according to label instructions. For more information, go to cdc.gov/coronavirus.
On school numbers, she said of the approximately 5,000 school students in the county there were 62 positive cases reported last week and of the 750 or so school employees, there were 14 positives reported in the past week, noting again that these were cases confirmed by healthcare officials and did not include home tests.
Several items on the agenda were postponed Monday night due to COVID illness among the groups set to be recognized or to speak.