Seven patients with COVID-19 at East Georgia Regional Medical Center are on ventilators and described as “very sick,” as Bulloch County continues to see a dramatic rise in the number of residents diagnosed with the coronavirus.
With new COVID-19 cases continuing to rise at an alarming rate, Statesboro and Bulloch leaders are seeking the community’s help in efforts to stop the spread of the virus. But neither the mayor nor county commission chairman are considering mandatory mask orders at this time, citing no legal basis without the governor’s support.
The hospital shut down almost all visitation Thursday, as Bulloch County Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn reported 74 new COVID-19 cases in the county For Thursday and Friday, for a total of 465 confirmed cases. The 54 cases confirmed Friday were the most in a single day since the first coronavirus case was diagnosed in Bulloch on March 27.
Thursday afternoon, the hospital was treating its highest number of COVID-19 patients yet — 15, seven of whom were on ventilators, Wynn said. Those seven are “high acuity (very sick) patients.”
He said East Georgia CEO Stephen Pennington “urges our community to take heed to what our county Emergency Management Agency is instructing.”
This means wearing masks in public, observing social distancing, washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer often and staying home if sick, he said.
While increased testing may impact the numbers, the fact is, people are not paying attention and following precautions, he said.
“Community members should take this very seriously and do their part in helping slow the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “Avoid crowds whenever possible, social distance yourself from others, always wear a mask or face covering when in public, and be vigilant about hand washing and sanitizing.”
Effective thu, visitors are not allowed at the hospital.
“Due to a large increase in positive coronavirus cases in our county, East Georgia Regional Medical Center has implemented further visitor restrictions to ensure the health and safety of patients, their families and staff,” Wynn said.
There are exceptions: Maternity and Women’s Pavilion patients may have one support person to accompany them. Those with a significant disability are limited to one support person as well, as are pediatric patients (limited to parents or guardians).
“End of life” situations allow for visitors, but there are no visitors for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, he said.
Anyone who is allowed entry must submit to screening for symptoms, have their temperature checked and be screened for travel or exposure history, Wynn said.
“You will be asked to not enter the facility if you have had symptoms in the past 24 hours or exposures in the last 14 days.”
No ordinances yet
Bulloch County commissioners have no current plans to enact any ordinances regarding COVID-19 precautions, but commission Chairman Roy Thompson said he is concerned about the rise in cases. He said all county employees are expected to wear masks in public and office situations, and he encourages county residents to do the same.
The county has not discussed plans to enact any ordinances, but all commissioners are concerned, he said.
On Thursday, Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar had not issued any COVID-19 mandates and said he is not seeking a mask ordinance from City Council. However, he is appealing to business owners to require the use of masks inside their buildings. He signed a letter that City Hall was mailing to about 1,100 businesses in Statesboro.
In the first paragraph, McCollar notes that the number of coronavirus cases in Bulloch County had increased by more than 200% in the last two weeks alone.
The second paragraph states: “Medical studies have proven that the most effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a protective mask or cloth face covering. My challenge to each business is to require your patrons to wear a mask when in your establishment.”
Both city and county officials are appealing to residents to take the pandemic seriously. Wynn sends a daily update by email and posts on the Bulloch County Public Safety/EMA Facebook page.
McCollar said that earlier this week the city used an automated calling and texting system it shares with the county government to send a “code red” to people throughout Bulloch County, urging them to wear masks.
Neither he nor Thompson anticipated actions such as those by Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who issued an order requiring most adults and children age 10 and up to wear masks in businesses and public spaces.
That order went into effect Wednesday. Savannah news media reported that police were checking for compliance but also handing out masks to people who did not have them.
Wynn said Bulloch EMA recently “received confirmation of (an) additional 10,000 masks for local distribution.” The masks will be picked up next week.
Savannah residents who refuse to wear masks could face a civil fine of up to $500, but McCollar said his understanding is that fines would not be enforceable unless Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp authorizes mandatory mask-wearing and potential penalties in a statewide order.
Thompson agreed, stating that such an ordinance would be moot unless Kemp laid down state mandates.
“We’re still looking into the legality of a mask order, but what we’re more concerned about is what’s going to be the most effective measure to keep our people safe within the city. …,” McCollar said. “If we can get the business owners on board with mandating face masks in their local businesses, that would help us tremendously in our fight to flatten the curve of COVID-19.”
Have a safe holiday
Wynn pleaded with people to remain safe during the July 4 weekend.
“Please be vigilant and stay safe. If you are not feeling well, stay home. Avoid crowds where social distancing is difficult, and stay outdoors as much as possible. As the numbers show, younger people are catching COVID-19, and many are getting sicker with the virus.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.