ALBANY — Members of the public aren’t the only people being sickened by the coronavirus. Two local first responders have tested positive for the virus, and hospital staff also are falling ill as the number of confirmed cases continues to grow.
The Dougherty County School System also reported on Thursday that six employees and a second-grade student have tested positive for the coronavirus.
“It’s been a difficult day so far,” Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said during a Thursday-afternoon news conference. “I have received notice that two first responders are in serious condition. We also know some nurses at Phoebe Putney (Memorial Hospital) are ill.”
Leaders reiterated that residents who are sick should stay home and that all other people should remain at home unless they are out engaged in essential activities such as shopping for food or for medical appointments.
Those actions are meant to reduce person-to-person contact to slow the spread of the disease, as well as limit the new cases presented to health care systems to avoid overwhelming hospitals and prevent spreading the illness to medical personnel fighting the disease.
“I know we are asking our Public Works employees, our public safety employees and our public transit employees” to remain on the job, Dorough said. “This is a risk they are taking and have willingly embraced. They have embraced a life to protect and serve.
“When this ordeal has passed, I trust that we will remember the sacrifices these people have made in this time of trial.”
At the 1 p.m. news conference, Phoebe officials reported the number of deaths for patients who tested positive for the coronavirus had grown from 12 to 16, including those who tested positive prior to death and those whose test results came back positive after they had died.
The total number of positive tests for the hospital system stood at 217, with 255 negative test results returned. The hospital was awaiting results for about 1,319 additional tests. Phoebe was treating a total of 126 patients with COVID-19 symptoms, including 31 who had tested positive and 95 who were awaiting test results.
“All three of our intensive care units are full with COVID-19 patients,” said Dr. Steven Kitchen, Phoebe’s chief medical officer. “There are only four beds (available) for COVID-19 patients, and no available intensive care unit beds.
“We are at the point where we have tapped out in terms of our capacity.”
Other hospitals in the region and state were accepting intensive care patients sickened with illnesses other than COVID-19.
Despite the strain, Kitchen said, hospital employees are still focused on the task at hand. The number of virus cases has not peaked in the area and is expected to continue to increase in coming weeks.
“I really can’t say enough about how much our staff — our nurses, our physicians, our respiratory therapists — have worked tirelessly the last few weeks to provide everything they can,” Kitchen said. “They are tired. They are spent. But their personal ethos has always been to put the needs of others above their own.”
According to numbers provided on the Georgia Department of Public Health website, as of noon Thursday confirmed coronavirus cases in southwest Georgia totaled 30 Lee County residents, 10 in Mitchell County, seven in Early County, five each in Sumter, Terrell, Tift and Worth counties, four in Colquitt County, two each in Coffee, Decatur, Miller, Seminole and Turner counties, and one each in Baker, Randolph and Thomas counties.
Leaders in Albany and Dougherty County have encouraged other counties in the region to enforce social distancing, as they could find themselves having increased cases of coronavirus cases in coming weeks.
Most cities and counties have enacted social distancing orders, from limiting gatherings to 10 people or less, limiting person-to-person contact at governmental buildings and curfews.
Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas also pressed for people who are ill to seek assistance.
“There are people in this community who believe there is a stigma with the coronavirus,” he said. “That is not true.
“There are people in this community, there are families in this community who have walled themselves off from seeking services (and) suffer silently in their own homes. No one that has been exposed to the virus has done anything wrong.”
Individuals who suffer severe difficulty breathing or chest pains should seek immediate emergency medical services, officials said.
Those who have milder symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever and coughing, are asked not to arrive unannounced at a health care facility but to call either their personal physician’s office or the Phoebe COVID-19 hotline atto determine whether they should seek testing.
The Southwest Public Health District office also is providing tests for those who are 65 or older and experiencing respiratory symptoms, first responders or health care providers. Those who qualify can contact the office by calling (229) 352-6567.