While Bulloch County has seen a modest increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the past few days, physicians, staff and administrators at East Georgia Regional Medical Center are preparing for a significant increase in local COVID infections as record numbers of cases are being recorded across Georgia and the nation.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Bulloch County recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19 between Monday and Wednesday, the largest two-day increase since Sept. 2-3. And, for the second day in a row, both Georgia and the country as a whole set records for most daily infections on Wednesday.
In its first response to the recent rise in cases due to the rapid increase of both the delta and the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus, East Georgia will, once again, limit patients to one visitor at a time.
The policy change took effect Wednesday, said Erin Spillman, director of marketing at East Georgia. On Oct. 27, the hospital increased the number of visitors to two, as cases had seen a significant decline.
Spillman said all visitors must be 18 or older and wear a mask throughout the visit.
After Georgia set a record on Tuesday, for the most total cases – confirmed and antigen – recorded in one day with 13,670, the state shattered the record on Wednesday with 19,894 total cases. Prior to this week, the previous single-day high was 12,804 cases on January 8, 2021, almost a year ago.
The average number of daily cases in the state also hit a high with a seven-day moving average of 11,461, breaking the previous day’s record by 1,600 cases.
Also on Wednesday, new coronavirus cases set a record across the United States, as the seven-day average of new cases rose to 267,315 per day. Prior to this week, the previous high was 248,209 cases on Jan. 12, 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
On Wednesday, Ted Wynn, director of the Bulloch Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency, said seven COVID patients were hospitalized at East Georgia Regional Medical Center, with one patient on a ventilator.
While the number of COVID patients is low now, the hospital is mobilizing for the possibility of a patient load similar to the delta surge in August and September. On Aug. 25 alone, 15 COVID-19 patients were admitted, which brought the then total number of virus patients at EGRMC to 73 – its all-time high. On Sept. 16, 24 COVID patients were on ventilators, which was the most ever the East Georgia.
“We are constantly preparing for potential (COVID spikes) like this as we have done in the past,” said Stephen Pennington, CEO for the Medical Center. “We began limiting visitors (again) to one per patient on Wednesday. This is for everyone's safety. We communicate with employees and medical staff members to make sure we are all on the same page and that they understand when we make modifications to our processes. We have made sure we have the appropriate number COVID test kits, medications, PPE, and anything else on hand.”
With the pandemic now about to enter its third year in 2022, the stress on all health care workers remains high. Back in August, Dr. Alan Scott, EGRMC chief of staff and emergency services director, said the surge placed an “immense burden on resources and the mental health of … an already overwhelmed staff.”
But Pennington said the hospital staff understands another spike in cases is coming soon.
“EGRMC staff are committed and resilient,” he said. “We have been anticipating the increase in cases and preparing ourselves mentally and emotionally for it. We are ready to work as a team to provide whatever level of care our community needs.”
CDC data shows that the unvaccinated are hospitalized at much higher rates than those who have gotten inoculated, even if the effectiveness of the shots decreases over time.
Bulloch County remains in the bottom 15 of Georgia’s 159 counties for vaccination rate. As of Wednesday, 39% of residents had received at least one shot, while 35% are fully vaccinated.
Vaccinations are available at area doctors’ offices, pharmacies and the Bulloch County Health Department. Vaccinations are free.