Stephens County Hospital's response to the COVID-19 pandemic goes beyond testing and treatment; asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 mandates extraordinary measures for dealing with even non-Covid-related interactions with new patients.
Governor Brian Kemp’s declaration of a statewide Shelter-in-Place Executive Order on April 2 has been greeted by Georgians with varying degrees of approval and dismay. Many residents have expressed, through social media, support of the Governor’s mandates as an overdue effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Others remain skeptical of the extent of the danger posed by the disease and the extent of the response by world, national, state and local leadership.
Reports and images from healthcare facilities in New York, where COVID-19 has infected more than 60,000 residents and killed more than 2,250 people, have provided an idea of the potential impacts of the disease, but as of this morning, April 5, Stephens County – and even statewide figures – have not reached healthcare facility capacities, much less exceeded them.
In Georgia, as of Saturday evening, a total of 6,383 people have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Of those, 1,266 have been hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19. According to the American Hospital Directory, Georgia has 22,344 staffed hospital beds, 75 percent of which are typically in use for normal emergency and elective procedures, leaving approximate 5,500 beds open at any one time – a number that exceeds the current COVID patients needing hospital care.
Examining only a comparison of available hospital beds to current COVID-19 patients in need of hospitalization does not provide a thorough picture of the demands upon healthcare facilities, personnel and supplies posed by the COVID-19 response, Stephens County Hospital spokesman Van Loskoski recently told ConnectLocal.
The local community, as well as people statewide and on the national and worldwide stage, are practicing recommended social distancing procedures to both protect themselves and slow the spread of the disease. This procedure of widespread distancing between individuals is especially important when confronting a disease like COVID-19, where virus carriers can pass on the virus before they experience symptoms of the disease.
“I expect you, like the majority of the community, the country, and the world at large, are practicing social distancing and making sure to limit your exposure to anyone because you don’t know whether or not anyone you come into contact with may be carrying the COVID-19 virus. I also expect that at this point you’ve had to go out in public...When you did that, you were probably very aware of your surroundings and made sure you didn’t get too close to anyone... because you don’t know who may be carrying the virus,” Loskoski said.
“The complexity of healthcare right now is that our work requires us to do exactly the opposite. We interact with anyone who walks through our doors. We may not know right away what your symptoms are and we certainly won’t know right away if you have COVID-19, but we can’t allow that to delay your care, so we have to be prepared. We see patients in very emergent, life-threatening situations and any delay can mean the difference between life and death. We also have a responsibility to protect ourselves and others, so we have to use protective gear in all situations until we know for certain that a patient isn’t a risk for spreading the coronavirus,” he added. “That’s why we need supplies and also why it’s so taxing on healthcare workers. It isn’t the number of confirmed cases that is driving the increased need for protective gear. It’s the need to ensure that we protect every patient and staff member. With this virus present in our community, the amount of preparation that goes into ensuring safety is immense and we are exercising all precautions to ensure the safety of our patients, our staff, and our community.”
A March 18 report published by the CDC and updated on March 26 indicated that roughly 12 percent of patients who test positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus will need to be hospitalized. Applied to Georgia’s 6,383 confirmed positive cases, that 12 percent would result in 766 hospitalized patients; April 4 Georgia Department of Public Health statistics show that there have been, to date, 1,266 hospitalized COVID-19 patients – well above the 12 percent used to estimate expected hospitalizations in Georgia.
“One of the great challenges in understanding, diagnosing, and treating this virus is that data we are collecting is changing at an extremely fast pace. As such, that figure may change again in a day, so I cannot say with certainty why our state is showing higher than national average hospitalizations,” Loskoski said.
“I will say that Georgia ranking worse than the national average in a health trend is nothing new. We have higher than average rates of diabetes, hypertension, smoking, COPD, lung disease, heart disease, all of which are co-morbidities which can make the symptoms of COVID-19 more severe,” he added.