COVID-19 testing at Habersham Health Department shifts to Wednesday, Saturday

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   Habersham County Health Department tested 190 people over the weekend as they opened free COVID-19 testing for the first time.

   “Everything went very well. We continue to encourage those individuals who want to be tested to call their local health department and make an appointment,” District 2 Health spokesman Dave Palmer said. “This reduces wait times and helps us schedule our staffing. However, we will still test those who do not have an appointment.”

   As of Tuesday afternoon, Habersham County has reported 455 positive cases with 15 deaths, still the second-highest per-100,000 resident case rate in North Georgia behind Hall County. Georgia has 38,624 total cases with 1,649 deaths.

   Starting this weekend, all drive through clinics will close at 3 p.m., except Sunday which will close at noon. Habersham Health Department will operate its testing on Wednesday and Saturday (8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), rather than on both days of the weekend.

   Hall County will still operate on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

   Meanwhile, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, the Albany-based hospital that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, will start using the antiviral drug remdesivir to help treat patients with severe health issues from the respiratory virus.

   The South Georgia hospital is one of eight in the state to receive initial shipments of the drug that arrived from federal officials last week. 

   The hospitals picked to receive the drug are among the most affected by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic.

   State health officials received 30 cases of the antiviral drug in the initial shipment last week that contained 1,200 vials capable of treating roughly 11 patients, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

   A larger second shipment has also been sent to Georgia and will be distributed sometime this week, health officials said.

   Phoebe Putney quickly became the COVID-19 outbreak epicenter in Georgia outside the Atlanta area as the virus sent waves of people to the hospital. While admissions for COVID-19 have declined in recent weeks, the hospital was treating 82 patients for the virus as of noon Tuesday. To date, 122 patients with COVID-19 have died at Phoebe Putney.

   Northeast Georgian editor Matthew Osborne and Beau Evans of the Capitol Beat News Service contributed to this report.