Officials warn 'risky behavior' may be behind increase in new COVID-19 cases in Dougherty County

Dr. James Black warned about the risk of travel during a Friday news conference held to make residents aware of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

ALBANY — Referencing a recent concert that drew possibly thousands and block parties held where hundreds attended, officials here warned that “irresponsible decisions” may be behind a recent sharp increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

As of Friday afternoon, there were some 66 patients hospitalized at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and an additional 11 at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus.

The number of positive tests for the novel coronavirus also has increased significantly to about 12 percent, “three times the rate in June,” Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said during a Friday news conference with government and health officials. After suspending the regular news conferences when numbers declined, the city of Albany and Dougherty County plan to report weekly updates at the conferences each Friday.

In recent days, officials said, a trend also has emerged of more patients being admitted each day than are being discharged from local hospitals. Some of the new admissions have been from other hospitals that have been swamped by COVID-19 patients, but most are Dougherty County residents.

With the number of coronavirus cases spiking around the state and in other hot spots in the country, one fear is of already taxed medical facilities being hit with a heavy influenza season.

“That’s really the greatest concern, I think, if we have a really bad flu season and an uptick in COVID at the same time, it could get really bad,” Ben Roberts, Phoebe’s director of communications, said during a Saturday telephone interview.

While there are some predictions that there will be a second surge of the coronavirus in the fall, that is not certain, Roberts said. However, the public can help by getting flu vaccinations.

“We’re encouraging everybody to get a flu shot as soon as they become available to try to minimize the flu season,” he said. “We’ve got to hope this is not a bad flu season and COVID will not have a big resurgence in the fall. It’s kind of wait and see.”

At the moment, there is sufficient capacity in the intensive care units, including the temporary facility set up on Palmyra Road where most COVID-19 patients are being treated, but the current trend is not good, Dr. James Black, Phoebe’s director of emergency health services, said during the Friday news conference.

“If you admit 10 (a day) and discharge five, within a week you will be over 100,” he said. “Numbers are rising and trending in a not-so-good direction.”

A number of new patients has traveled recently, Black said. With the virus spiking in surrounding communities and around the state, travel both in-state and to other states is a risky proposition.

“People traveling are coming back three days later having COVID symptoms,” Black said. “Let’s make the decision traveling is something we do only when absolutely necessary.”

Closer to home, a recent concert at U.S. 19 Dragway, which drew a large crowd, and block parties in Albany are examples the officials gave of people making decisions that could further the spread of the disease.

Dorough and Dougherty County Commission members were inundated with emails and texts about the concert.

“People were upset with me,” Dorough said. “I would like to suggest that any promoter who has an event scheduled like that, cancel it immediately.”

Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul said he spoke at length with the owner of the concert venue, who was unaware of the most recent coronavirus executive order issued by Gov. Brian Kemp. The July 18 concert was in apparent violation of the section requiring social distancing be maintained at large gatherings.

Albany police also have discussed three recent block parties at which hundreds of people gathered, Sproul said.

“We have had some situations that have taken place,” he said. “I do encourage our business owners if you have not read the 41-page order, please read it. We need to follow the guidelines that are in place.

“We want to get back to some kind of normalcy in our country. You’ve heard some of the speakers talk about poor choices. They used the terms risky behavior, common sense and poor choices.”

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