The number of confirmed and suspected coronavirus infections has soared more than 70% in Georgia in the week ended Monday, as hospitals continue to sound alarms about their ability to absorb new COVID-19 patients and a few schools give up in-person instruction for the remaining two weeks before Christmas holidays begin.
The last week has seen a rapid takeoff in new infections, with the state averaging more than 5,000 confirmed and suspected cases each day as of Monday. Even just the confirmed cases, based off molecular PCR tests, are now above the high set on July 24, when hospitals statewide were groaning with cases and schools were pushing off the start of the academic year because of the high number of infections.
Despite the rapid rise, Georgia still ranks only 44th among the states for the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days, because cases are spreading so rapidly everywhere else. Still, the Georgia Department of Public Health rates 60% of Georgia’s counties as having high transmission.
Not everyone shows symptoms, and most people recover, but a small fraction sicken and die. Georgia is likely to record its 10,000th confirmed or suspected death from COVID-19 sometime this week. On Monday, the death total stood at 9,851. The state passed 500,000 confirmed or suspected infections on Sunday.
More than 2,500 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide on Monday. That’s below the summer peak of 3,200, but more than double the most recent low point in mid-October.
“We are effectively reversing the gains we made after the summer surge,” wrote Amber Schmidtke, an epidemiologist who prepares a daily report on COVID-19 in Georgia.
On Monday, 19 hospitals told the state their intensive care units could accept no more patients, including four smaller hospitals in the Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare system, the main Emory University hospital, Augusta University Medical Center, both University Hospital locations in Augusta and Coliseum Medical Center in Macon.
A handful of hospitals were accepting no new patients of any kind, and others said they were getting full. Northeast Georgia Health system listed 31 beds available Monday across its four-hospital system.
“We’re close to the point where we’re going to either have to send patients elsewhere or come up with some different ideas,” said Dr. Clifton Hastings, Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s chief of medical staff, told The Times of Gainesville last week. “We’ve stretched and built about as much as we can.”
Hastings said his concerns have been on the staffing and bed capacity for the hospital in what he has called a “constant battle to stay afloat.” Hospital officials are trying to cancel or delay surgeries.
At least two Piedmont system hospitals have banned visitors for patients, citing the rise in COVID-19 cases.
Some K-12 students won’t be coming back to class in person until 2021.
On Monday, the 3,500-student McDuffie County school district in eastern Georgia sent all its in-person students home because of the increasing cases, citing “a significant number of students and staff in quarantine, an excessive number of students absent, and a concerning number of pupils sent home ill today.”
In northwest Georgia, the 7,000-student Murray County system sent all its middle and high school students home last week to learn virtually for the remainder of class days this month.
Superintendent Steve Loughridge told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that increasing infections had sent at least 22 staff members into isolation or quarantine as of last Wednesday, as well as more than 275 students.
“We were having a hard time covering for classrooms because teachers were quarantined and subs are like a white elephant,” Loughridge said. “You can’t get subs.”
The Richmond County school system sent students at four Augusta-area schools home on Monday, although all are supposed to return for at least one in-person day before Christmas.