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“We thought, initially, with this pandemic, you should wait a few months, but now it’s been retracted,” Voccio said.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.

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