With increased testing, the number of Lumpkin County coronavirus confirmed cases have soared. As of noon Monday, Northeast Georgia Health Systems (NGHS) Public Relations Director Sean Couch reported 53 confirmed positive cases of those living in Lumpkin County, while two await test results.
Eight of those positive for the virus were hospitalized at that time, and one had been released.
State officials also reported the death of a Lumpkin County resident, a 58-year-old male with underlying conditions.
The number is significantly higher than those reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health, which as of press-time stood at 33, due to a lag in reporting.
Local testing is being done through Northeast Georgia Physicians Group (NGPG) Urgent Care, 73 Maxwell Lane, in the Home Depot complex.
A total of 555 COVID-19 tests had been administered as of late Monday afternoon since testing started in all NGHS medical centers, Urgent Cares and Northeast Georgia Physicians Group (NGPG) in late March, said Dr. Donna Whitfield, Northeast Georgia Medical Center Lumpkin Chief of Medical Staff.
Despite the surge, so far NGHS is not experiencing a shortage of ICU beds or ventilators, said officials.
“NGMC Gainesville and NGMC Braselton are hovering between 60-80 percent full on any given day,” Whitfield said. “They would have already been overwhelmed if we had not recently increased our total ICU beds from 91 to 134. We have also increased the number of medical/surgical beds across all four hospitals from 474 to 522, and we have a total of 108 ventilators across the health system. As the number of COVID-19 patients grows, our plan is to shift non-COVID and less critical patients to NGMC Lumpkin and NGMC Barrow.”
Staffing, however, is a problem.
“It’s easier to add beds than it is to increase the number of nurses, physicians and other staff members needed for those beds,” she said.
Whitfield said NGHS’s projection is the area will hit its peak in patients in early June, the need for care will outpace staffing levels in May—“well before the peak,” she said. “Thankfully, the state is working to help us find additional workers, especially critical care nurses. We are also asking retired nurses, physicians or anyone with or without prior clinical experience to volunteer.”
The number of cases in the region is on the rise, with the highest number of cases occurring in the lower socioeconomic demographic.
“We believe that’s likely due to people in those households being more likely to have less space to practice proper distancing, multiple generations living together, working jobs that can’t be done remotely, lack of income to purchase cleaning supplies and other needed items,” Whitfield said.
But another factor would be those who are resisting or ignoring recommendations for isolation and social distancing.
“People need to continue staying home as much as possible, wear a mask in public places, keep six feet between you and others when possible, cover your cough and sneezes, wash your hands regularly and follow other precautions,” Whitfield said.
WHEN TO CALL
Whitfield advised those “experiencing respiratory symptoms or other symptoms consistent with COVID-19—including fever of 100 degrees or greater, persistent cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat, dizziness, loss of smell or taste to call their primary care provider to discuss next steps” to contact their physician or Urgent Care to determine if a test is appropriate.
NGPG doctors now perform video visits, so people don’t have to go to the office to be seen. Call your doctor for more details, or, if you don’t have a primary physician, go to ngpg.org, complete a coronavirus E-Visit at ngpg.org/e-visit, or call Urgent Care in Dahlonega.
Not everyone experiencing symptoms will be tested, however, Whitfield said.
“Due to limited supply of testing resources, we are currently requiring a physician’s order for all COVID-19 tests,” she said. “[For the same reason] we are still prioritizing certain groups for testing.”
These include those
• over the age of 60
• with chronic medical conditions
• pregnant women
• healthcare workers
• first responders
• patients in illness clusters in a communal location such as a school, shelter, etc.
• and those already hospitalized
“If you are tested, your provider will decide if you should go back home and isolate until results are available or if you need to go to the hospital to be monitored,” Whitfield said.
Test results are usually back within 48 hours. If you test positive, Whitfield said, what happens next depends on the person’s symptoms.
“If they are asymptomatic, which means they aren’t showing any symptoms, they may be instructed to go home to isolate and monitor symptoms. On the other hand, if they’re experiencing symptoms, we may admit them to the hospital to be monitored. Severe cases are admitted to our Intensive Care Units for an increased level of care,” she said.
Lumpkin County’s Health Department is also arranging for people to be tested.
“We started doing it at the end of March, right at a month ago,” said Lumpkin County Health Department Manager Linda Truelove.
The Health Department is not administering tests. It is screening those who call who think they have symptoms, and those who have been exposed after their 14-day quarantine.
“We have a list to check off sent to us by the state, and if they qualify, we give them a PUI number and send them to a District II Public Health site in Gainesville to be tested,” she said. “We can usually get an appointment the same day or the next. Right now the results are coming back within 48 hours.”
Truelove said the department averages five to six calls for screening per day.
“Less some days,” she said.
They may receive more calls, since they have expanded their hours. People can now call until 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday.
Other changes have been made at the Health Department as well.
“We are seeing current clients for essential services only—to pick birth control pills or get a depo shot, pick up WIC [Women, Infants and Children] supplemental nutrition vouchers, immunizations, STDs and TB skin tests. The dental clinic is also here for emergency services only,” Truelove said.
To reach the Health Department, call 706-8867-2727.
People can learn what to do if they feel sick, see NGHS’s latest data and learn how they can volunteer and help in other ways by visiting nghs.com/COVID-19.