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Georgia’s hardest-hit hospital’s intensive care units are filled with ‘critically ill’

Drive-thru testing at Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany.
Drive-thru testing at Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany. (WALB-TV image)

ALBANY, Ga. – A southwest Georgia hospital system that’s reporting about a fourth of the state’s coronavirus deaths now says one hospital has reached capacity in three ICU units.

The three intensive care units within the system's hardest-hit hospital in Albany are filled with "critically ill Covid-19 patients," Phoebe Putney Health System said in a news release Wednesday. A fourth ICU was previously opened to care for patients not infected with the virus.

The system has reported 12 deaths. At least 47 people have died in the state.

"As this public health crisis in southwest Georgia gets more severe, we have been reaching out to other hospitals in our part of the state," the system's CEO, Scott Steiner, said. "I am pleased that every one of our regional partners we spoke to in the last 24 hours agreed to assist by accepting patient transfers from us."

Inside Albany's Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, 35 patients have tested positive. About 90 are awaiting test results.

RELATED: One-third of Georgia’s COVID-19 cases hospitalized | Coronavirus special section

Six months of supplies gone in a week

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp had committed additional resources to make 26 beds available in a different facility, Albany officials said Wednesday.

The health system's most "severely impacted" hospital is in Albany, Steiner said in a statement. So far, 35 patients have tested positive for the virus in that hospital and another 90 were awaiting results.

The state will soon be bringing in more ventilators and personal protective equipment, Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said.

"The light at the end of the tunnel is when you have more discharges than patients," he said. "We are not there yet."

Steiner, the leader of the health system, told CNN last week they began seeing an influx of patients in the second week of March. When that happened, they went through six months' worth of supplies in less than a week, he said.

To help their masks last longer -- a supply which was quickly vanishing -- Steiner said a team of staff members were sewing masks together using surgical sheets.

They were hoping to make about 200,000 of those, he said.

"We've been standing up our command center for quite some time, waiting for this... for coronavirus to hit the United States" Steiner told CNN last week. "We have been overbuying supplies, but until it truly does, you don't quite realize what you're going to be going through."

"We're scrambling," he said.

Epidemiologists responding to local outbreak

A Georgia Department of Health (DPH) spokeswoman told CNN they were noticing “sustained community spread” of the virus in Albany. That prompted the department and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to deploy a team of epidemiologists to study the infections.

Dougherty County, surrounding Albany, issued a shelter-in-place order on March 20, directing all non-essential workers to stay home, bars and restaurants to transition to only takeout services and shutting down gyms "and similar businesses."

"What we have to do is take precautions today, immediately to eliminate further, unnecessary spread of the virus," Dorough said Wednesday.

"This is a problem we know we have in Albany and Dougherty County but if we don't do something about it and our partners in surrounding counties don't do something about it health systems throughout southwest Georgia are going to be overwhelmed just like Phoebe Putney."

The team of experts from the DPH and CDC will work with Albany officials to respond to the outbreak by first studying infections in the hard-hit Phoebe Putney hospital as well as long-term care facilities.

“This is a historic public health threat and we must work together with our federal, state and local partners to contain this pandemic,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, DPH commissioner.