As the number of COVID-19 cases continue a double digit daily streak in Floyd County, healthcare providers are adapting to the number of infected patients that require hospitalization.

The good thing, Dr. Sheila Bennett said, is despite the increasing numbers they’re prepared.

Dr. Bennett, the executive vice president and chief of patient services at Floyd Medical Center, said the ability to rapidly test patients in house has been a game changer but the large increase in new cases — and hospitalizations — is worrying.

In response the hospital will be moving some non-ICU COVID-19 patients to a 20-bed mobile intensive care unit early next week. The unit was brought in by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency as an overflow facility for the region. The patients are being moved to open up room in the main building for those patients with more acute conditions.

That 20 bed unit isn’t the first expansion Floyd has done to cope with COVID-19 positive patients. The hospital converted the Northwest Building on Floyd’s campus which used to be Kindred Hospital to house COVID-19 positive patients in April.

“We’re fortunate to have the Northwest Building, but we’re full,” she said. Floyd has also converted a parking area to a 200-bed emergency overflow area, they refer to as P1, which has not been used up to this point.

As of Friday, Floyd Medical Center had 37 COVID-19 positive patients and seven patients waiting the results of a test. Redmond Regional Medical Center has 29 COVID-19 positive patients and 2 patients waiting on test results.

Many of the patients being treated in local hospitals are from South Georgia, Redmond CEO John Quinlivan said.

On top of treating patients from out of the area, the coronavirus has made a time that’s not usually all that busy for hospitals fairly busy.

“It’s manageable,” he said. “Our census has steadily ticked up though.”

Floyd County has had 354 new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks — for comparison in the past two weeks we’ve had the same amount of positive cases that we had cumulatively from March through the middle of June.

That brings our total number of cases to 1,206, an increase of 38 overnight and continuing a streak of double digit gains through the past two weeks.

Floyd County isn’t the only area seeing a notable increase of cases in the past two weeks. Many counties which have had relatively low number so far — like Polk and Gordon — have seen sharp increases in infections recently.

Simple solutions

Three things, Quinlivan said: wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.

“If we could get people to do those three things, this thing would be gone,” he said referring to a recent speech by CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.

During that speech Dr. Redfield said if people would abide by those basic tenants the virus would be under control within four to eight weeks.

Remembering to follow those guidelines, even when around friends and family is vitally important, Bennett said.

“When you get in the car with friends or family and ride with them ... there are so many asymptomatic carriers,” Bennett said. “You don’t know who they’ve been exposed to.”

So far Floyd hasn’t had any employees get COVID-19 from taking care of patients, but they have from community exposure.

When people go out and mix in the community they often eschew practices they follow while at work and it’s showing in the increased spread of the coronavirus.

“We have got to get that message out,” Bennett said.

Game changers

More tools and experience in treating COVID-19 positive patients and in house rapid testing have been game changers, Dr. Bennett said.

When testing demand increases, that stresses the capacity of labs to quickly return test results.

For hospitals, that means more use of personal protective equipment for patients who may have a COVID-19 infection, but haven’t tested positive for the disease. The amount of difference changes from a one to two day wait time for results to a seven day window is something that can sap needed resources.

That was one of the issues hospitals faced in March and April during the initial surge of COVID-19. But with rapid testing, which can be done in house, they have results quickly and know what they’re dealing with, Bennett said.

“As for PPE we’re in good shape,” Bennett said. They planned ahead and as the availability for needed personal protective equipment opened up, they stockpiled.

Their toolkit to deal with COIVD-19 patients has increased dramatically. Through the use of less invasive oxygenation, steroids, the drug remdesivir — which shortens the lifespan of the virus — and treatment with convalescent plasma doctors have been able to effectively treat patients.

“Treatments are so much more effective now,” Quinlivan said.

A recent report is showing a locally led initiative is really showing results.

Dr. Matt McClain has been heading up research locally using the antibodies in plasma from those who have already been infected with COVID-19 and it appears the treatment effectively lowers mortality rates.

“Convalescent plasma has a possible 57% reduction in the mortality rate, that’s potentially a game changer,” Dr. McClain said.

The locally-based research, which has been done in partnership with the Mayo Clinic, has given Rome the benefit of being prioritized while the research has been conducted.

“Rome is currently on the cutting edge concerning treatment,” McClain said.

That may soon change. If the Food and Drug Administration approves the use of convalescent plasma as a treatment then the area will lose that benefit, he said. That could potentially happen as early as next week.

Despite that, the need for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to donate plasma is as — if not even more — important.

“Dr. Dan Valancius has done a fantastic job of referring people who have been (tested positive for COVID-19) to donate plasma,” McClain said. “We do need people to donate rather significantly.”

Georgia World Congress Center reopened as overflow facility

The Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta will reopen to receive coronavirus patients on Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday.

The facility, which has a capacity of 120 beds, will house 60 beds initially and increase based on need.

This will mark the second time the convention center has been tapped to help with an overflow of coronavirus patients. A 200-bed alternative care facility there was activated back in April as COVID-19 cases soared and state officials rushed to boost emergency bed capacity.

Its operations were paused in late May as the governor moved to relax business restrictions and jump-start the state’s flagging economy.

But COVID-19 cases have been rising again since the beginning of July. As of Friday afternoon, 18,689 Georgians suffering from coronavirus were hospitalized, including 3,414 patients in intensive care.

The number of confirmed cases in Georgia had risen to 186,352 — 4,149 overnight. The virus has killed 3,752 Georgians, with 81 of those perishing in the past 24 hours.

Grady Memorial Hospital will serve as the lead hospital for clinical oversight for the 120-bed facility at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Capitol Beat News Service contributed to this report.

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