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Georgia COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations rise again

Chaplain Will Runyon holds back tears as he speaks of the hardships and death amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak outside of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany.
Chaplain Will Runyon holds back tears as he speaks of the hardships and death amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak outside of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany. (AP photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA – COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to rise rapidly in Georgia, with some hospitals voicing concern as they fill with patients infected with the virus.

The state Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported 9,100 new positive tests but said that number included new reports dating back until Friday that hadn’t been included because of data transfer problems with electronic reporting.

With the data dump, the state’s seven-day average rose above 4,000 cases, almost 11 times higher than when cases bottomed out in late June. The current seven-day average is the highest since Feb. 10, and higher than Georgia’s peak in July 2020. The state’s rolling average peaked above 9,500 in mid-January.

Hospitalizations also continued their rapid increase, climbing above 2,600 statewide on Tuesday. Statewide, 26 hospitals reported to the Georgia Coordinating Center that they were turning away all patients or new intensive care patients, including 7 of 11 hospitals in the Piedmont system and half of the 10 hospitals in the Wellstar system.

Dr. Alan Brown, chief medical officer of the Brunswick-based Southeast Georgia Health System, told The Brunswick News that the contagious delta variant and low vaccination rates have led to the system’s hospitals having 10 to 20 times as many patients as they had in early July.

“At this rate, we’ll soon be facing capacity challenges, not only for patient beds but also for nursing teams who care for our patients,” Brown said, calling the stress on employees “disheartening.”

Chaplain Will Runyon, a chaplain at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, which was the epicenter of virus infections and deaths early in the pandemic, told Georgia Public Broadcasting the low vaccination rate in South Georgia is frustrating

“If you told me a year ago, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a vaccine by December and it’s going to be a great vaccine,’ I would have said we’ll have this thing buried by summer,” Runyon said. “But what we’re seeing today is extremely disappointing. And I would tell you, people are now angry.”

Dr. Stephen Thacker, associate chief medical officer at Memorial Health in Savannah, told WTOC-TV the hospital is relying on contract nurses to fill staff. He said the hospital is not yet at a “tipping point’' but warns that there could be weeks more of increasing cases.

“We’re definitely bumping up to the constraints of just the number of patients that need care in the region with the number of beds that we have, you know balancing that with the amount of staffing that we have,” Thacker said.

Georgia has recorded nearly 1.2 million positive COVID-19 tests and nearly 22,000 deaths from associated respiratory illness.

Douglas County became the latest public school district to announce it would require masks in all its schools. At least 25 of Georgia’s 180-plus school districts have announced they will require masks for all students and employees regardless of whether they have been vaccinated. That group covers more than a third of Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students.

A few schools have postponed the start of class districtwide or in individual schools because of COVID-19 exposure.

Fort Benning, as with many other federal facilities, has re-imposed mask requirements indoors when on base. The fort is also limiting attendance at graduations.