Hall, Habersham counties tied together with COVID-19 cases

  • Healthcare workers at Northeast Georgia Medical Center get fully armed with personal protective equipment.
    Healthcare workers at Northeast Georgia Medical Center get fully armed with personal protective equipment.

   Hospital leaders of Habersham Medical Center and Northeast Georgia Health System addressed their respective counties as they continue to both have new incoming positive cases of COVID-19 every day.
   Michael Covert, NGHS Chief Operating Officer, said staffing is their biggest concern as of Monday in Hall County. 
   “It is easier to add beds than it is to increase the number of nurses, physicians and other staff members needed for those beds. Our most recent projections show we’re likely to hit our peak COVID patient volume in mid-June – though that may change based on several factors. We’re focused on doing everything we can to have enough staff ready to care for everyone at the peak,” Covert said. 
   He added that the state is helping NGHS find additional workers, especially critical care nurses.
   “We are also asking retired nurses, physicians or anyone with or without prior clinical experience to volunteer. We may not ultimately need all the assistance, but better to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Covert said. 
   NGHS has treated more than 350 COVID-19 patients who have been able to leave the hospital. Covert said Monday there are 11 Habersham County residents with COVID-19 currently being treated at NGMC hospitals.
   Clifton Hastings, MD, Chief of Medical Staff spoke as to why people in Habersham County should care about Hall County’s situation.
   “This is an equal-opportunity virus, and it doesn’t care about county boundaries. It’s important that everyone continue to follow simple recommendations to keep themselves and others safe. Continue to stay home when you can, wear masks when out in public, maintain six feet of distance as much as possible, disinfect surfaces and common items, wash your hands regularly, cover your cough and sneezes. That will help limit the strain on all hospitals in our region, which will save lives,” he said. 
   Tyler Williams, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for HMC said that people should be aware of what is going on in their geographical region. Readers should be paying attention to the case rate per 100,000 he said. For Habersham County, that rate is 777.29 per 100,000 while Hall County is 868.92 as of Tuesday.
   “When you look at it like this, we are not too far behind Hall County in terms of the severity of the virus,” Williams said. “Given that we know this, it is just as important for us to focus our attention right here at home as it is for us to keep up with what is going on in Hall County.”
HMC currently has two COVID-19 positive patients, None of them are Hall County residents.
   Williams said HMC does not feel overwhelmed or taxed by the number of COVID-19 patients they are seeing and that the number of those patients being admitted to the hospital is decreasing. “While the number of positive cases in Habersham County continues to rise, the majority of these individuals are not severe enough to need medical treatment,” he said.
   “It is important to remember that the majority of the individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 never become acutely ill enough to require an inpatient hospital admission. The data points to anywhere from 12% to 14% of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will require hospitalization,” Williams said. “This number will trend down as more and more individuals get tested. Everyone should continue to follow all CDC, state, and local guidelines pertaining to the COVID-19 virus and seek medical treatment if they feel it is necessary.”

   As COVID-19 testing becomes more available, anyone with symptoms wishing to get tested can do so for free in Hall County.
Habersham Medical Center hosted a free testing event on April 26, but there is no regular location in Habersham County to get a free test.
   Previous testing criteria was to test individuals with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Due to new testing criteria from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), District 2 Public Health can now test anyone with these additional symptoms – chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and loss of taste or smell.
   At the latest report by the Department of Public Health on Tuesday, Habersham County had 357 positive cases and nine deaths.
Georgia went over 200,000 tests administered on Tuesday morning, with 29,642 positive cases and 1,272 deaths.
District 2 Public Health spokesman Dave Palmer said results of COVID-19 testing are taking between 3-4 days to come back with the labs getting backed up with more tests coming in.
   Palmer added that healthcare workers, first responders and law enforcement personnel who believe they have been exposed to the virus can call and get the test even if they have not yet shown symptoms.
   With reports flying around social media that the COVID-19 tests are producing false results, Palmer said the tests are running around 95% accurate. An appointment is needed for testing by contacting the call center at 770-531-5600 or Habersham County Health Department at 706-778-7156. The new call center hours are: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., every day including Saturday and Sunday. All county health departments will continue to schedule appointments during normal business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The testing site in Hall County operates from Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon.