ALBANY — With Dougherty County reportedly one of the biggest hot spots in the world for the novel coronavirus, officials gave a good news — and potentially worst news — assessment of where the community is heading into a new week.
As of the weekend, 50 Dougherty County residents who have died during the crisis have tested positive for the virus, Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler announced during a Monday news conference. The death toll stood at 38 at the beginning of last week, meaning there were 12 deaths confirmed from COVID-19 in the previous seven days.
Phoebe Putney Health System CEO Scott Steiner reported that 48 people have died at the system’s facilities. Out of 3,911 patients tested by the hospital, 1,405 have tested positive.
“We have 50 deaths,” Fowler said. “We had 38 deaths. What is it going to be by the end of this week? They say this is going to be the worst week since we’ve been involved in it.”
Fowler’s numbers differ from Phoebe’s because they include only the county, including some residents who died outside the hospital in their residences and at nursing homes. The hospital’s numbers include residents from other counties as well as Dougherty County.
The potentially good news is that after weeks of testing sometimes more than 100 patients a day, the number of tests performed Sunday by Phoebe was 46, said Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas.
“That’s encouraging,” he said. “It indicates the number of new cases is declining.”
During the news conference, each of the speakers wore a mask to the podium.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday issued a nationwide recommendation that people wear cloth masks while out in public.
The idea is that a person wearing a mask is less likely to transmit the virus, which spreads through droplets that can be released into the air through a cough or a sneeze. A person who is infected but shows no symptoms can spread the disease to others.
“Each and every life we have lost is precious,” Cohilas said. “What families are having to go through is tremendous.
“Now, more than ever, we need to continue to be vigilant. We are making great strides. One person dying is one too many, but we know some realities about this virus, that it will be absolutely deadly to some, and it will spread.”
Cohilas also praised business owners who are following guidelines, and in some cases going beyond by doing such things as providing set-aside shopping hours for the elderly and others who are more susceptible to the more serious complications of the virus if infected.
Residents who wish to report potential violations can do so, as well as have other questions answered, by calling (229) 302-1900. They are asked to dial 911 only for emergencies.
“We are, according to The New York Times, third in the world, literally behind Wuhan, China, and the Lombardy region in Italy,” Cohilas said of Albany’s world ranking in per capita coronavirus cases. “We have people who are literally going into battle every day,” including first responders and medical personnel. “That takes incredible courage and incredible guts. I want to say: Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
As of Monday, Steiner said, all of the 50 intensive care units available in Albany were filled with COVID-19 patients, with an additional 100 patients hospitalized for non-COVID conditions.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has tested several hundred other people, including first responders, medical personnel and residents who are particularly vulnerable to the disease, said Dr. Charles Ruis, director of the Southwest Public Health District, which includes Dougherty County and 13 other counties in the region. Those who have been tested should get results within 24 to 36 hours.
In addition, the health district plans to open a second testing location this week in Thomas County and a third next week in a location that Ruis did not divulge. Residents can call (229) 352-6567 to set up an appointment for a test through the office if they meet the program qualifications.
Another new development involves the Dougherty County School System, which had to suspend its feeding program after learning last week that an employee involved with meal distribution has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The worker went home on March 26 and initially was diagnosed with a sinus infection, Schools Superintendent Kenneth Dyer said, and has not returned to work.
The worker “was notified Sunday, March 4, they tested positive for COVID-19,” Dyer said.
The meal service program, which had distributed some 162,000 meals along student bus routes since schools were closed on March 13, will be reopened when it is safe to do so, he said.