A1 A1
COVID-19 Hospitalizations high, oxygen supply low as surge remains strong

COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high, but ventilators and oxygen supplies are low as the surge fueled by the highly-contagious Delta variant continues.

Northwest District Department of Public Health Director Dr. Gary Voccio described a “desperate” situation for area hospitals in a phone interview while urging people to get vaccinated.

“The hospitals have an enormous number of COVID cases right now,” Voccio said. “This morning, three of our hospitals had patients in the emergency room on ventilators waiting to be admitted. One of our hospitals in northwest Georgia had to get extra supplies of ventilators from the (Georgia Emergency Management Agency). Oxygen is in very short supply and in all of our hospitals, it is getting very desperate right now.”

According to the Floyd County Emergency Management Agency, as of Monday, Sept. 13, Floyd Medical Center had 107 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, while Redmond Regional Medical Center registered 94 confirmed positive cases. Two individuals at Redmond were still awaiting test results.

Voccio said regularly-scheduled surgical cases are having to be canceled because of the continual COVID surge.

“It is really very, very worrisome for our hospitals,” Voccio said. “People should be very concerned.”

Public health officials are encouraging everyone who can get vaccinated to do so. Some who have had COVID-19 feel they have developed antibodies that offer the same amount of protection as a vaccination.

In response, Voccio said while developed antibodies can offer some protection, antibody counts differ from person to person, and a vaccine remains the most effective form of protection.

“That second response to the vaccine makes your immune ability ... much more robust,” Voccio said. “The vaccines do offer significant protection even against the Delta variant.”

Voccio said he recommends unvaccinated individuals who fully recover from COVID-19 to get a vaccine two weeks after symptoms disappear.

“We thought, initially, with this pandemic, you should wait a few months, but now it’s been retracted,” Voccio said. “Two weeks is a good time frame to get a vaccine only because your immune response is going to be very, very robust.”

Extensive antibody research has shown particularly the elderly overall do not have near the same antibody response as younger individuals, he said, and strongly urged people over 60 to get vaccinated.

Voccio added the viral load for the Delta variant is 1,000 times higher than the alpha strain of COVID-19.

In the event an individual contracts COVID a second time, Voccio said those who are vaccinated will have much fewer symptoms for a shorter period of time and risk of hospitalization or death is lower.

“Your innate immune response will help you, but we clearly know now with a vaccine, your symptoms are shorter, you won’t be as transmissible or contagious if you’ve been vaccinated.”

When is the Peak?

According to the latest CDC modeling projections, COVID-19 cases will likely plateau in northwest Georgia in 10-14 days.

“The CDC says in the next 10 days, maybe two weeks where we will plateau and then we will be coming down off a plateau after that in most of northwest Georgia,” Voccio said. “For some reason, there’s been counties delineated that will plateau but not really start a descent in the next couple of weeks, but the majority of our counties in northwest Georgia will see a descent in cases.”

Voccio said the holiday season approaching is a concern because of large family gatherings.

“A lot of people indoors, primarily if they’re unvaccinated, are going to spread this contagious Delta variant,” Voccio said. “If you’re vaccinated, it’s a lot safer, so get vaccinated, but if you’re unvaccinated with a lot of people indoors in the coolest months without a mask or physical distancing, you’re at high risk. You’re 10 times the risk if you’ve not been vaccinated from being hospitalized or dying.”

Free drive-up COVID-19 testing sites are open in Bartow, Catoosa and Floyd Counties.

The Floyd County testing site, located at the Coosa Fairgrounds on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

People are asked to register online in advance at honumg.info/LTSGA011.

The Bartow County test site is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the LakePointe Sports Complex in Emerson and the Catoosa County test site is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at The Colonnade.

The registration website for Bartow and Catoosa is https://mako.exchange/splash/GAmakotesting.

Hospitals: vaccination mandate may stop nurse job-jumping

Georgia hospital officials are scrambling to gauge the impact of President Biden’s order for health care workers to get vaccinated for Covid-19.

The mandate would apply to health care facilities that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients – virtually all hospitals – as well as dialysis centers, surgery centers and home care operations.

Nursing homes already face such a vaccination requirement.

The new order, if it ultimately takes effect, would appear to end the trend of nurses who don’t want the shots leaving for positions at hospitals with no vaccination mandates.

Georgia hospital officials say such job-jumping has occurred here, with hospitals that don’t require vaccinations getting new RN applications at a time when nurses are generally in short supply.

But industry officials also worry that some hospital employees in non-medical categories — such as housekeeping, food service, call centers and other departments — will leave for similar jobs outside the health care business once a vaccine order is implemented.

GHN spoke Friday with several hospital officials who requested anonymity.

Large Georgia hospital systems Piedmont, Emory and Wellstar already have a vaccination mandate for employees. So does North Carolina-based Atrium Health — which counts among its locations the Floyd hospitals in Georgia’s Floyd and Polk counties and Cherokee County, Alabama.

The Biden order may actually help their hospitals retain employees who may have been considering leaving for facilities that don’t require the shots.

The Northside Hospital system, which does not have a vaccine mandate, did not respond to questions Friday about the Biden mandate’s effect on its operations.

HCA, with several hospitals in Georgia, also does not currently require vaccinations of employees. The Tennessee-based hospital chain said Friday that it would “review the details of Biden’s plan and respond accordingly, just as we have in states that have mandated vaccination.’’

About 41% of hospitals nationwide had some sort of employee vaccination mandate, or about 2,550 hospitals, as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the American Hospital Association.

Biden conceded the mandates would take time to “have full impact.” Using a combination of executive orders and new federal rules, Biden’s strategy includes rolling out a general vaccination mandate for large employers.

It would require all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workers are either vaccinated or are tested weekly for Covid,

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” the president said Thursday in remarks aimed at unvaccinated Americans.

Several Republican governors say the Biden plan represents government overreach. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has threatened to go to court to challenge Biden’s vaccine requirements.

Members of the nursing home industry — some of whom had felt singled out by the earlier rule requiring vaccinations for their employees — welcomed the move to extend the requirements to other sectors of health care.

“This will help prevent unvaccinated nursing home staff from looking for new lines of work, alleviating some of the staffing challenges too many long-term care facilities are currently facing,’’ said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, in a statement.

The president of the American Medical Association, Dr. Gerald Harmon, also praised the Biden move.

“Aggressive measures will be needed to prevent further widespread transmission of Covid-19,’’ he said in a statement.

Lily Bell, a student at Model Elementary School

Georgia needs to update lead standards, health official says

A top state public health official told a House of Representatives study committee on Monday that Georgia should require a full clearance inspection after a lead abatement inspection.

Currently, according to Christy Kuriatnyk, director of the Georgia Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, all that’s required is a visual inspection.

“You can’t see lead dust,” Kuriatnyk told the House study committee on childhood lead exposure.

Kuriatnyk also recommended the state should increase the length of time a landlord must submit a lead abatement plan from 14 to 30 days; and require landlords to submit a letter the property will no longer be used as a dwelling, if that is the intent.

Another recommendation: if a landlord does not disclose a home has the potential for lead hazards and such hazards are found, then tenants can void their lease.

“We are making recommendations that keep pace with science,” Kuriatnyk said.

Lead abatement, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is designed to eliminate lead-based paint hazards. Abatement is sometimes ordered by a state or local government, and can involve specialized techniques not typical of most residential contractors.

The committee was formed via a special Georgia General Assembly resolution. Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, chairs the committee which was designed to study early intervention and prevention of childhood lead exposure. According to the legislature, lead paint is present in one-third of the nation’s homes, particularly older residences.

Monday’s meeting was the second held by the committee, the first being Sept. 2. At that meeting, Dempsey said the committee was created to study the impact of lead in children’s bloodstreams.

“In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its lead recommendations, and Georgia has not updated” its standards, Dempsey said earlier this month.

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

City commission tables juvenile curfew proposal, approves tennis center management plan

After some some discussion in caucus commissioners tabled an amendment to change a citywide juvenile curfew ordinance to 10 p.m.

During the caucus prior to the Rome City Commission meeting on Monday commissioners were split as to whether or not the curfew should be changed. The curfew applies to minors under the age of 17 who are not accompanied by a responsible adult.

Punishment, and who gets punished, came to question and Commissioner Mark Cochran said he was concerned with some of the wording in the current ordinance.

The parents get the fine, city manager Sammy Rich said, and city attorney Andy Davis said the wording concerning juvenile courts was added so the city could work with the courts in some cases.

Despite voicing support for the idea of an earlier curfew, City Commissioner Bonny Askew said the city needs to be wary of enforcement and the message any measure would send.

“If you tell these kids at this age they’re not welcome downtown when they are of age they won’t come downtown,” Askew said.

Commissioner Bill Collins intimated the commission should table the discussion to “let the task force do its job first, then talk about a curfew.”

A group made up of the public safety committee as well as church leaders and the community met on Sept. 2 to discuss the topic as well as forming a task force to address the issue. Participants also agreed the task force, which hasn’t yet been formed, would work to include youths in determining a solution.

Another question prior to the vote also concerned whether or not 10 p.m. was early enough.

“In full disclosure, I’ve heard from several downtown businesses who said 10 is still too late and said we should do 9 o’clock,” City Manager Sammy Rich said.

Mayor Craig McDaniel said he’d heard much the same from business owners he’d been in contact with.

“The problem is not with the kids, it’s with the parents,” McDaniel said. “We’ve got a problem and the 11 o’clock curfew did not solve the problem.”

They asked Rome Police Department Chief Denise Downer McKinney questions regarding issues in downtown since a brawl involving juveniles downtown on August 14. Police suggested the 10 p.m. curfew as a measure.

“We didn’t have any issues this weekend because people are under the impression that the curfew was enacted,” Chief McKinney told commissioners.

Commissioners approved a measure to allow a contract with Cliff Drysdale Tennis to take over the management of the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.

The company is under the same umbrella company that manages Stonebridge Golf Course.

“We’ve had exceptional results with Stonebridge and I expect we would have some similar results,” Rich said.

For the past year, Georgia’s Rome director of tourism Lisa Smith has been in charge of the tennis center. Rich applauded the amount of work Smith has put into the center.

The proposal, which is not finalized, would be a $10,000 a month fee alongside a 3% bonus based on profits. It’s a similar deal the city has for the management of Stonebridge.

Rich said they haven’t brought a finalized deal to the commission for the purpose of getting the ball rolling. Saying the center would be the “flagship” of the management company’s portfolio, Rich said they specialize in creating tennis programming.

“There will be something for everyone,” Rich said.