A 76-year-old man became Bulloch County's ninth resident to die from COVID-19 complications. And, as confirmed cases rose to 878 in the county, East Georgia Regional Medical Center was treating 22 coronavirus patients Friday, 10 of whom were on ventilators.
Thursday saw the highest number of patients — 24 —– in the hospital at one time, said Ted Wynn, director of Bulloch County Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency.
Wynn said the hospital staff was "hard at it," as Friday brought the largest number of ventilator patients in a single day to date.
After recording only 62 confirmed cases and 10 hospitalizations in March, April and May, Bulloch County has added 816 COVID cases and 60 hospitalizations since June 1.
Despite the number of patients being treated for COVID-19, East Georgia Regional Medical Center officials said they are set up to handle the rising number of coronavirus patients.
"ICU beds are limited in our region, and we closely monitor our capacity on a daily basis," said Stephen Pennington, CEO for East Georgia Regional. "We have converted another unit for COVID-19 patients in order to increase our critical care bed capacity."
The increased capacity also has lessened concerns about treating non-COVID patients who are seriously ill, Pennington said.
Also, Pennington said the hospital is in good shape regarding personal protective equipment, except for two areas.
"Overall we are solid with supplies," he said. "There is a nationwide shortage of shoe covers and bouffant caps that we continue to monitor."
Bouffant caps are the expansive caps used to completely cover a health professional's hair.
Free masks available
Free face masks will be distributed to residents Saturday by volunteers with
"Squash the Spread," a coordinated effort between the City of Statesboro, Bulloch County and others. The masks will be handed out at three Parkers convenience store locations — Brampton Avenue, Highway 301 South and the bypass, and Highway 80 East in front of Lowe's, Wynn said.
Also, masks will be included in school lunches that are distributed at dozens of locations around the county on weekdays. Next week will be the final week of the summer lunch program, he said.
The masks are being provided to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, which is accelerating across the state.
"There have been 82 deaths reported in Georgia in the past 24 hours," Wynn said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have surpassed the previous peak in April."
On Thursday, 3,157 people were in hospitals around Georgia due to the COVID-19 infection, he said.
The 82 deaths Friday were the second most reported in a single day in state, after the 100 reported on April 7. Since Tuesday, 266 people have died in Georgia. The state added 4,813 cases Friday and has had 161,401 confirmed COVID diagnoses so far.
In the United States, 144,873 deaths and 4,086,900 total cases had been reported as of 2 p.m. Friday.
Wynn reminds people to "keep 6 feet away from someone who is not a part of your household, wear a face mask and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently."
In Statesboro and across the country, Walmart, Lowe's, Verizon, Starbucks, CVS and Walgreens all now require customers to wear face masks inside their stores. Aldi will begin requiring masks Monday.
In order to schedule a free COVID-19 test, visit https://www.sehdph.org/covid-19/, or call (855) 473-4374 to schedule an appointment at the local Specimen Point of Collection site at the Bulloch County Health Department at 1 W. Altman St. in Statesboro.
Statesboro Herald editor Jim Healy contributed to this report. Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.