In response to the recent rise in local COVID-19 cases and the spread of the delta variant of the virus, East Georgia Regional Medical Center is limiting patients to one visitor at a time and is requiring all visitors to wear a mask at all times while inside the hospital.
The policy changes are effective immediately, said Erin Spillman, director of marketing at East Georgia, and come less than one month after the hospital had relaxed visitor rules to allow two visitors.
"In consideration of visitor and patient safety with the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases both regionally and nationally, as well as the increase in the Delta variant, we have had to reinstate the one visitor per patient policy,” said Dr. Alan Scott, chief of staff and director of Emergency Services at East Georgia Regional Medical Center. “Also contributing to a higher risk (of more COVID infections) is the low vaccination rate in our region."
New confirmed cases of COVID-19 have seen a marked increase in Bulloch. After recording 28 new cases for the entire month of May and 46 in June, statistics from the Georgia Department of Public Health show Bulloch has added 58 new confirmed cases since July 7, including 21 in the past two days alone. The rapid rise in cases became the catalyst for the changes to the visitor and other policies at the hospital.
In an email release from East Georgia on Wednesday, Spillman said, “East Georgia Regional Medical Center is currently limiting visitation to 1 visitor per patient. All visitors must be over the age of 16 … Patients diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are under investigation may not have visitors. We do encourage you to use electronic communication for ‘virtual visitation,’ such as FaceTime and Skype.
“Visitors without masks will not be allowed to enter the facility. Visitors will be required to wear a mask or face covering over your nose and mouth at all times and will not be allowed to remain in the hospital without one.”
U.S. cases triple
Across the United States, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that COVID-19 cases tripled over the past two weeks, which is beginning to strain hospitals and exhaust doctors in certain regions of the nation.
The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Health officials blame the delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. Just 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the Georgia Department of Health has not released statistics on how many of the new COVID cases are the delta variant, Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn remains concerned about a further rise in local cases due to the variant.
“We don’t live in a bubble and sooner or later, we will start seeing more cases,” Wynn said.
Also, Wynn said East Georgia Regional Medical Center is treating nine COVID patients as of Wednesday, which is the most COVID patients at one time in the hospital since April. One of the current patients is on a ventilator.
Georgia confirmed 1,258 new COVID cases on Wednesday – one of the three highest daily totals in the state since March 7, more than four months ago. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, Georgia has recorded 914,984 cases of coronavirus and 18,644 deaths from the disease.
Surgeon General Murthy last week called for a national effort to fight misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, urging tech companies, health care workers, journalists and everyday Americans to do more to address an “urgent threat” to public health.
The warning comes as the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations has slowed throughout the U.S., in part because of vaccine opposition fueled by unsubstantiated claims about the safety of immunizations and despite the U.S. death toll recently passing 600,000.
On Tuesday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell implored unvaccinated Americans to take the COVID-19 shot, issuing a stark and grave warning of a repeat of last year's rising caseloads and shutdowns if people refuse to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
“If there is anybody out there willing to listen: Get vaccinated,” McConnell, R-Ky., said.
McConnell has been one of the most outspoken members of his party in urging vaccinations to stop the virus spread, speaking often in his home state of Kentucky of the need for people to get the shot.
He said “it never occurred to me” that after the COVID-19 vaccines were quickly developed for use in the U.S., “we'd have difficulty convincing Americans to get the shot.”
Murthy urged all Americans to verify questionable health information with trusted sources like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to exercise critical thinking when exposed to unverified claims. If people have loved ones or friends who believe or spread misinformation, he said, it's best to engage by listening and asking questions rather than by confronting them.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.