ALBANY — Medical workers and paramedics are seeing a slight decline in COVID-19 numbers, but the impact of the latest surge is still taking a toll — an average of one death per day of Dougherty County residents and 13 deaths overall in area hospitals in the past week.

Through Friday, there had been 333 deaths of county residents who were positive for COVID-19, up from 326 a week ago, according to Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler.

“I’m going to make my remarks short because I’m getting ready to go to another funeral,” the coroner said during a Friday news conference with medical officials and elected leaders. “I’m getting burned out going from funeral after funeral. It’s one funeral after another.”

Of the 133 COVID patients in Phoebe Putney Health System facilities in Albany, Americus and Sylvester on Friday, 47 patients were in an intensive care unit and 39 were being assisted with breathing with ventilators.

The hospital system peaked at 214 patients hospitalized last month.

But even though there are positive trends, over the past two weeks there has been an average of 70 new coronavirus diagnoses per day, a total of 984 during that period, among Dougherty residents, down from an average of 73 per day from the previous 14-day period.

Also disturbing to health care officials is the average age of patients being hospitalized is younger. While the initial wave of the pandemic mostly affected the elderly, from July 15 to Aug. 15, four patients ages 0-9 were admitted, 13 were ages 10-19, 42 were ages 20-29 and 96 were ages 30-39.

“The first wave did not affect our children as badly as this one right now,” Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital CEO Joe Austin said. “It’s really impacting our children.

“Another reason we need to get vaccinated: In the past month, almost 25 percent of the new cases in this country have been pediatric cases. The pediatric hospitals around this country are filling with children right now, COVID-positive children.”

Since children under age 12 cannot get vaccinated, it is up to adults to protect their families by getting vaccinated, he said.

“If you don’t want to get vaccinated for yourself, please get vaccinated for your children, please get vaccinated for your grandchildren, because you can get it (virus) and give it to (them),” Austin said.

Overall, the average age of COVID patients hospitalized during the two-month period ending Aug. 15 was 57, compared to 65 at the beginning of the pandemic, and more than 85 percent of those currently in the hospital are unvaccinated, Austin said.

Hospital workers have been buoyed by expressions of support from the community but are still facing burnout themselves. Groups have held prayer vigils, provided meals, and recently students from Terrell Academy provided snacks during a shift change and held signs thanking hospital personnel.

“I can’ t tell you what that means for our team, because they are tired,” Austin said. “They’ve spent 18 months in this battle, and they are tired. The COVID patients keep coming, and it’s because people are not getting vaccinated like they should.

“If you really want to support the people who are on the front lines, my mom and dad and sisters and all yours, please get vaccinated. That’s the No. 1 thing you can do for our staff.”

About 47 percent of Dougherty County residents have received one dose of one of available vaccines.

Considering the young people who cannot get the shots, the number of eligible individuals who have received at least one dose is more than 50 percent, Dr. Charles Ruis, medical director for Public Health District 8-2, said.

The county with the highest vaccination rate in the district is Terrell County. “Fifty-six percent of people that live in Terrell County have had at least one vaccine shot, and 49 percent of those who live in Terrell County are fully vaccinated” with two doses, Ruis said. “Vaccines do work. They have saved many lives. They have helped many people stay out of the hospital and helped many people not get COVID altogether.”

In addition to the vaccine, other steps individuals can take is to practice social distancing when they are out and about interacting with other people and to stay home when they have symptoms of the disease, he said.

Based on the severity of the surge that began after the July 4 holiday, Dougherty County Emergency Medical Services Director Sam Allen encouraged the unvaccinated to consider protecting themselves and others heading into the holiday season. With the five- to six-week period between getting a first shot and the full effectiveness of the vaccine after the second dose, Allen said the window is closing to take action ahead of the holidays.

“July really hit us hard compared to July of last year,” Allen said. “I’m concerned about what’s coming for Thanksgiving and Christmas when we get into January. We got really hard last January.

“We’re 44 days away from Halloween. We’re 69 days away from Thanksgiving. Find the facts, make a good, informed decision and please consider the vaccine.”

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