ALBANY — With three intensive care units filled with critically ill COVID-19 patients, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital will open part of the former Palmyra Medical Center facility to provide additional beds and space.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there had been 12 deaths at Phoebe of patients who tested positive for the coronavirus, six of whom were Dougherty County residents and an equal number from other counties among patients treated at Phoebe, Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler announced during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
Fowler’s office also was investigating another almost dozen additional deaths of Dougherty County residents who died at locations other than the hospital and who previously had not been tested for the coronavirus.
“There are 11 we have tested,” Fowler said. “We’re waiting on the test results to come back.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation notified the county that due to its case load, it will not provide test results in those cases, he said.
“We’re going to have to do more local testing now,” he said.
The opening of the Phoebe North campus for treating the overflow of COVID-19 patients will be made possible by assistance from the state, which has tasked the Georgia Emergency Management Agency with providing outside medical personnel, said Ben Roberts, director of communications for the Phoebe Putney Health System.
“We’re still working out the details with the state,” he said during a Wednesday telephone interview. “We basically need staff to do that. Hopefully, it will be a matter of days.”
The hospital announced on Wednesday that its three intensive care units were filled to capacity with COVID-19 cases and it was opening a fourth unit for treating non-coronavirus patients.
This comes as the number of cases has not reached their peak in the community.
The hospital does not have the number of staff needed to care for the load of coronavirus patients at the main hospital and also staff the Phoebe North location, Roberts said.
As of Wednesday, the hospital has sufficient supplies of personal protection equipment for staff dealing with the crisis, he said.
“We have to stay on top of this hour by hour,” Roberts said. “Today we are in better shape than we were a week ago. We have gone through a year’s worth of supplies in 10 days. If we don’t stay on top of it, we won’t be in good shape.”
Dougherty County and the city of Albany have issued a shelter-in-place order for residents, limiting nonessential outings. The governments have closed bars, gyms, entertainment venues, hair and nail salons, and other businesses as they look to slow the spread of the virus in the community.
Leaders also have reached out to elected officials in other cities and counties in the region, asking them to put in place similar measures.
Residents from other counties have died of the disease, including three from Terrell County.
In recent days Lee, Terrell and Worth counties have closed most businesses, with the exception of restaurants that serve food for off-premises consumption, and imposed curfews, as have some other counties. They also have enacted social distancing policies or limited access to government buildings.
“This is not just a Dougherty County problem,” Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said during the Wednesday news conference. “This is a southwest Georgia problem. Those people are going to be coming to our health system.”
Cohilas also asked residents who notice violations of the shelter-in-place order to report them by calling (229) 431-2132.
“We do respond to these,” he said. “We have sent police to locations that are not in compliance. Those businesses were shut down.”
As of noon Wednesday, Phoebe Putney reported a total of 173 positive test results for the coronavirus among those it has tested, with 35 of those hospitalized at that time and another 90 in the hospital in Albany awaiting test results and an additional 27 at the Phoebe Sumter Medical Center.
The hospital reported an additional 205 people who tested negative for the coronavirus and that it was awaiting test results for an additional 796 people for whom it took samples.
Also on Wednesday, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany announced that three civilian employees had tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 48 hours.
Two of the employees were isolated within their homes, while a third, who is asymptomatic, was quarantined. An investigation was conducted to determine who had been in close contact with the three, and those who were have been placed in isolation or quarantined as precautionary measures, the base said in a news release.
Albany Mayor Bo Dorough and Cohilas asked residents to realize that the daily statistics given involve fellow members of the community, even though they may not personally know them.
Twenty percent of Phoebe’s positive coronavirus patients so far are Lee County residents and 10 percent are residents of Terrell County, Dorough said.
“If we don’t do something about it and if surrounding counties don’t take precautions, health systems in southwest Georgia are going to be overloaded like Phoebe Putney,” he said.
Social distancing guidelines and restrictions have been enacted in much of the country, with the goal to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, and “flatten the curve.” The idea is to keep cases as low as possible to prevent overwhelming medical facilities and to conserve resources for the time when the disease peaks.
Turner County has enacted a 6 a.m.-7 p.m. curfew and asked residents to practice social distancing through voluntarily sheltering in place.
“We’re pretty much following the same format as the other surrounding counties,” Turner County Manager Joe Saxon said during a Wednesday telephone interview. “We’re just trying to ensure that we don’t raise that spike. We’re just trying to keep people healthy.”
The curfew allows for the movement of those deemed essential, including employees involved in stocking store shelves.
“If you have to take care of something medically related, go get groceries, go do that with an abundance of caution,” Saxon said.
So far, one resident there has tested positive for the coronavirus and there have been no deaths, he said.
“We know if we don’t adhere to these guidelines, the hospitals are going to be overtaxed,” Saxon said. “That’s what we want to prevent.”