COVID-19 health update

Danyell Sweat and Teresa Pittman work at an outdoor clinic behind Georgia Physicians South where health care workers are treating anyone who presents with a fever or who is potentially contagious.

Pierce County now has 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus), and most of those cases reportedly originated from a local church gathering.

“Unfortunately the majority of cases we have in Pierce County all stem from a church gathering  – more than 10 of them,” says Dr. Brent Waters of Georgia Physicians South.

Even five or six people together is an exposure that should be avoided.

“The biggest thing is avoiding groups of people ... You’re not just exposing yourself to them, you’re exposing yourself to everyone they have been exposed to,” Waters says.

Pierce County has no reported coronavirus deaths, but one Ware County death is related to that cluster of cases tied back to the local church meeting, Waters says.

The good news is most COVID-19 tests Waters has received back at Georgia Physicians South have been negative  – out of 21 test results received last Tuesday, only three were positive – but many patients are still waiting for test results. Some have been waiting since March 20-21.

“It’s not like these people are just getting sick now. They were sick a week ago,” Waters says of the lag in data.

Georgia Physicians South has switched laboratories and the new lab is now processing tests in 72 hours.

Twenty-three cases seems like a small number compared to the hundreds of cases in Atlanta counties and in Albany, but for Pierce County’s population size of 19,465, the number is significant.

By comparison, Ware County with a population of more than 35,000 has just five more case than Pierce while Liberty County – home to Ft. Stewart – has just 12 cases. Liberty’s population is more than three times that of Pierce County.

“We’re blessed that we’re not a high population density area,” Waters says. “For the amount of people we have, we are way up there (in the number of cases).”

Neighboring Appling County has  six cases and Bacon County has 10 confirmed case. Wayne County has two cases, but Brantley County has no confirmed cases to date.

Staying home may get annoying, but it beats the alternative – exposing yourself and others to the virus.

“In the ‘40’s we were asked to go to war. All we’re being asked to do is stay home,” Waters points out. “The more strict we are with it right now, the quicker we’re going to be able to get out of it.”

Use the time at home to strengthen family relationships, learn a new hobby or read a book, Waters suggests.

The hospitalization rate for patients who have COVID-19 hovers just below 20 percent in Georgia.

Memorial Satilla Health is currently treating eight patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 – all are in isolation.

The hospital has 92 persons under investigation for the virus. Of those, 18 have tested positive while 34 were negative and 40 are still pending results.

Memorial Satilla doesn’t break the data down by county of residence. The Department of Public Health handles that process, releasing two daily COVID-19 reports at noon and 7 p.m.

Monday’s 7 p.m. report shows 7,558 cases in Georgia with 294 reported deaths (3.89 percent) and 1,393 hospitalizations (18.43 percent).

For general information on COVID-19, call (844) 442-2681 or visit www.dph.georgia.gov and www.sehdph.org/covid-19.

What do you do if you think you’ve been exposed or begin to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms?

If you aren’t extremely sick, doctors still advise you stay home, but notify your primary care doctor of your situation. If you experience shortness of breath or any trouble breathing seek treatment from your primary care doctor first.

“If you’re symptoms aren’t bad stay at home. If they are bad enough that you think you need to be seen call your primary care and they’ll tell you what to do,” Waters says.

Avoid going to the emergency room for anything that is not an emergency.

“The hospital is trying to limit the amount of traffic through there to contain what’s already there,” Waters explains.

Memorial Satilla limited patient and visitor access to the hospital last week to just one entrance. Everyone must enter through the emergency room entrance. Hospital staff are still screening all visitors, patients and staff who enter the building.

All employees and providers at Memorial Satilla are required to wear a mask in all patient care areas. The type of mask required depends on the person’s clinical role.

If you’ve been exposed to the virus, every member of your household needs to remain home as well.

“If you think you have it, your whole family has to stay at home ... they’ve been exposed to you,” Waters says. “You can not show symptoms and still be infected. That’s the problem.”

Is anyone immune to COVID-19?

The short answer – No.

Children don’t seem to show symptoms of the virus but can still be carriers, Waters says.

“This can get anybody sick,” he adds.

Should I be concerned about exposure at the store, or picking up dinner?

Waters advises people to wear a mask to the grocery store, use hand sanitizer and wipe down the handles of your grocery cart. Don’t go more than once a week, he says.

There’s no reason to wipe down grocery packages or food items picked up from a restaurant though.

What is the hospital doing to deal with a possible surge of COVID-19 patients?

Memorial Satilla Health providers are skilled in caring for patients with infectious diseases. What could be challenging is a surge of patients with COVID-19 that need hospitalization. Most people with COVID-19 don’t need to be hospitalized. For those who do, we currently have the supplies and available beds we need to treat them. As a part of HCA Healthcare, we have access to resources from around the country. This could include additional staff, temporary care areas and important supplies. We also have the ability to send and receive patients from other hospitals in the region. Hospitals are working together during this unprecedented time.

Where are COVID-19 patients being treated in the hospital?

Suspected COVID-19 patients and positive COVID-19 patients are being treated in designated areas and not throughout the hospital.

How are you protecting your caregivers?

In keeping with CDC guidelines and best-in-class policies developed by HCA Healthcare the hospital is:

• Screening all patients, visitors and employees.

• Performing temperature checks on all employees.

• Giving Level 1 masks to all employees BEFORE they enter the hospital.

• Providing laundered scrubs to staff treating COVID-19 positive patients so they don’t wear their scrubs outside the hospital.

• Practicing proven infection prevention techniques: frequent hand washing and sanitation of supplies and equipment.

Why can’t everyone be tested?

Health care providers are currently testing patients who present with severe symptoms. Right now, Memorial Satilla says it’s more important to conserve resources to prepare for a possible surge of very ill patients. Things may change if supplies become more readily available.

Tests are in limited supply, Waters says. “We’re not testing just because someone wants a test to go back to work,” he adds.