Athens’ two area hospitals could expect to see over 600 COVID-19 patients by the end of April, with many cases coming from the 16 surrounding northeast Georgia counties in their service area, according to a new report.
The report, prepared by researchers from the University of Georgia College of Health at the request of physicians from Athens area hospitals, estimates that by April 28th, local hospitals will admit between 98 and 639 patients.
According to best current data, around 15 percent of those patients could need intensive care.
These predictions were based on models using publicly available counts of confirmed COVID-19 cases from county-level data published daily by the Georgia Department of Public Health. The researchers ran two scenarios based on the implementation and adherence of social distancing policies for the hospital service area — with one scenario modeling the impact of no shelter-in-place policies and the other modeling a service area-wide adoption of shelter in place with an average number of residents complying with the order.
Athens area hospitals serve 17 counties and approximately 650,000 people. Until Governor Brian Kemp’s statewide order, only Athens-Clarke and Oconee Counties had implemented comprehensive shelter in place orders while Barrow and Walton had issued partial orders. “If individuals adhere to the mandate,” write the report authors, “there should be a significant decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases.”
As of today, there are 276 confirmed cases in the hospital service area, and most have come from surrounding counties.
Grace Bagwell Adams, one of the report’s authors, gave a presentation to the Athens Mayor and Commission Meeting on March 19, where she outlined the gaps between the potential care needs of the service population and the hospitals’ service capacity. She is concerned about the realities of keeping health care workers and the community safe in a scenario reaching over 600 cases.
“In Athens-Clarke County, we have 556 beds – total capacity, pre-COVID,” said Adams. “However, beds are not as much of an issue as available providers. We must have the PPE to protect our providers, and we must have a backup plan to get more providers here if ours begin to get sick. In our worst-case scenario, which only spans to April 28th and doesn't have a peak in sight, we could have over 600 patients that need beds and care. We would be well beyond current capacity at that point.”
The estimates, adds Adams, also point to the need for residents in Athens’ health care service area to practice shelter in place to reduce transmission.
Justin Ingels, who led the modeling effort for this report, echoes this point.
“Models of COVID-19 rely upon a considerable number of assumptions,” he said. “We chose to limit our forecast to four weeks because we just don’t know yet how well social distancing will reduce transmission. At this point, the number of cases we’re seeing is below our worst-case scenario. For this trend to continue, we must all continue to practice social distancing and stay at home as much as possible.”
Lauren Baggett is the director of communications for the University of Georgia College of Public Health.