COVID still spreading and deadly, health officials warn

·4 min read

Sep. 11—ALBANY — The COVID-19 delta variant shows few signs of slowing its march through southwest Georgia and the state, and with big holiday gatherings approaching, there is cause for concern of another long winter of coronavirus.

Although hospitalizations are down from the August spike that erupted in the weeks after the 4th of July holiday, the virus is still spreading at a high rate and eight Dougherty County residents who tested positive for the disease died over the past week.

"Three weeks after a holiday we start seeing a spike," Sam Allen, director of Dougherty County Emergency Medical Services, said during a Friday COVID-19 news conference with health and elected officials. "We're just hitting Labor Day. We're wondering where we'll be in three weeks."

The clock is ticking for those looking to enjoy the big end-of-year holidays in a more safe manner as they have a limited window to be fully vaccinated against the disease, Allen reminded the public. An individual who takes a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine has a three-week wait before getting the second shot and an additional two weeks before it fully kicks in to provide full protection.

Those who choose the Moderna vaccine have a four-week wait until the second shot is administered.

"You have 52 days until Halloween," Allen said. "You've got 77 days before Thanksgiving. Keep in mind the days it takes to get fully vaccinated."

The EMS director, who was vaccinated in December 2020, said the shots are safe, and warned people not to be swayed by false information.

"If you have questions about the vaccine, go to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), talk to your doctor," he said. "Get informed information about your health and whether your doctor thinks you should take the vaccine. Make informed decisions, not what you read on social media or hear other people say."

Over the past 14 days, 1,000 Dougherty County residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

"That's more than 73 cases every day in this county," Dr. Charles Ruis, health director for Public Health District 8-2, said.

Ruis noted a worrying trend of people who had COVID-19 spreading the disease to others by interacting with others while sick themselves. The agency contacts individuals who may have been exposed and also tracks people with whom they may have been in contact.

"During those conversations we learn quite a lot," Ruis said. "A lot of the time we find they have been exposed to someone who was exhibiting some of the symptoms of COVID, and instead of staying isolated that individual went into the community and exposed other people who became infected with COVID."

Ruis said that individuals with symptoms should stay isolated until having a test that rules out the virus. Those symptoms include fever or chills, coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, new loss of taste or smell, congestion or runny nose and nausea or diarrhea.

"If you have any of these symptoms, you need to isolate until a test rules out COID," he said. "That's a very important thing we can do to reduce the spread of COVID in the community."

While the number of patients has declined at Phoebe Putney Health System hospitals in Albany, Americus and Sylvester, many of those are in intensive care units and are critically ill.

On Friday, of the 162 COVID patients in Phoebe facilities, 60 were in intensive care and 49 were being assisted with breathing by ventilators, Dr. Kathy Hudson, chief medical officer at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, said.

"The patients in the intensive care unit are critically ill, and we are doing our best to provide the care for them," she said. "But we know some of those patients are not going to make it. This month (August) alone we had 22 deaths in our hospital, and we are still admitting a significant number of new patients."

"We had 12 (admitted) yesterday in Albany, two in Sylvester and six in Americus, so the numbers are still fairly high."

While some of those admitted have been vaccinated, more than 85 percent of those hospitalized have not. And those who have been vaccinated have better outcomes overall, Hudson said.

"It helps protect you from the virus and does prevent you from being hospitalized, ventilation and death," she said.

The death toll from COVID-19 was 29 in August, one of the worst months since the pandemic began, Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler said. Through Thursday, there had been nine deaths in September.

Over the past four weeks, the deaths included six patients in their 40s and one in the 30s.

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