Stephens County resident in Gainesville Hospital since Tuesday, undergoing treatment for COVID-19

ConnectLocal.News spoke by phone this evening with Toccoa resident Greg Richie, who has been under ICU care at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville since Tuesday, and on Friday, March 20, was advised that his test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was positive.

“Since I got here, they’ve been treating the symptoms. Everyone coming and going puts on robes and masks, and they’ve got me in a vacuum-sealed room. It’s kind of a home-made thing, but they are sucking out large volumes of bad air,” Richie said.

Richie, 62, who, in his words, is “overweight, has diabetes, and only one lung,” said he is on the list of what health officials have identified as a “high risk” category for COVID-19. On March 9, he had a doctor’s appointment, and had not been feeling well for a few days, Richie told ConnectLocal, but said that he was not sent to the hospital at that time.

“I was supposed to go back on the 16th, but I called them – they’ve been telling everyone to call ahead on the news, so I called them – and I told them how bad I was feeling, and they called the hospital in here in Gainesville and told them I was coming and everything was ready for me to go into quarantine when I got here,” he said.

Richie, when asked if he had any indication of where he caught the virus, said he does not travel much, but said he did take a trip to Gwinnett County three or four weeks ago, and that is when he thinks he came into contact with the virus.

“I went to Gwinnett County with my cousin to pick up a sign to deliver to North Carolina, and there were cases (of COVID-19) confirmed in that area of Gwinnett, and along the way to North Carolina and in South Carolina, we’d stop along the way at (gas stations) and go in there and get sandwiches or food, and use the restroom, and anyone that has been through there touches something.. That’s really the only traveling I’ve done, so somewhere along there is where I’m sure I got it,” he said.

Richie, who lives near the Hart EMC office on Hwy. 123 outside of Toccoa, said he just thought he had the flu when he first started feeling sick, and didn’t think anything of it, but the symptoms got very severe over the last few days before he went to the hospital on Tuesday.

“The Monday before I came up here, on Tuesday, I was really, really bad shape. I felt like I may not make it through the night. I’m a Christian and I’m laying there sick, and at one point I thought, ‘this is the end,’ you know? And I asked Jesus to help me. And I had what I call an out-of-body experience. I could see myself on the bed, covered in white sheets, and there was somebody, sitting on the edge of the bed in white apparel, and he had his had his hand on my head, and I just feel like that was Jesus indicating he was helping me,” Richie said. “I honestly believe, when I called on him, he let me know he was there, and I wanted to share this, I think this is important, because these are bad times, but we need to understand that there is always somebody there that can do well beyond what we can do.”

Richie said the doctors and nurses and staff have been working very hard and expressed appreciation for their care, and said he thinks President Donald Trump, the government and the citizens are doing their best to face this epidemic.

“It’s like the old days, I’m talking the war days, where everybody pulled together after Pearl Harbor,” he said.

Editor's note: ConnectLocal.News spoke with Dave Palmer, Public Information Officer for the Georgia Public Health Department District 2 last week, and inquired about the daily update statistics released by the DPH. asking if the county the confirmed cases were listed under was the county they were located in at the time of testing, or the county of residence. He advised that the confirmed cases were listed by "county of residence" (the posted statistics were later updated to include a footnote indicating that statistics referred to county of residence). He advised ConnectLocal that it would be impossible to find out through DPH if a out-of-county resident tested positive while in Stephens County, and was being treated in Stephens County. Despite this procedure and policy, however, there has been no notification, that ConnectLocal is aware of, that a Stephens County resident has tested positive for COVID-19, and no way to receive official confirmation until contact can be made with health officials tomorrow, The 7 p.m. Sunday DPH update lists no confirmed cases in Stephens County, despite the positive results confirming the case on Friday.

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