ALBANY — Returning to normal after the initial wave of the coronavirus is going to be a balancing act, as businesses re-open even as the disease remains a presence that has slowed but not disappeared.
On Tuesday, Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler reported three additional deaths over the weekend of residents who tested positive for COVID-19.
At Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, the number of patients hospitalized has increased, but that may be due to the lack of rapid test supplies. Since the hospital ran out of the rapid tests last week, it has admitted more patients with coronavirus symptoms who are awaiting results.
The number of deaths and new cases has slowed dramatically in recent weeks, but elected leaders stressed during a Tuesday news conference that residents must continue to follow practices that have brought about those trends.
There were three deaths in the county last week, Fowler said, seven the previous week and three deaths three weeks ago. As of Tuesday, there had been 137 deaths of Dougherty County residents with COVID-19.
At the peak of the crisis, there were more than 26 deaths for several weeks in a row.
People have lost jobs and businesses during the crisis, so the need to continue the re-opening is obvious. But, at the same time, that means an increased risk, Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said.
“We are starting to relax some of the rules,” he said. “As we go forward, we are going to start seeing some of the numbers go up again.”
Cohilas encouraged residents to get tested and wear masks while out in public and limit potential exposure in other ways, such as having one family member go out on shopping excursions instead of taking the entire family.
With the state driving the pace of reopening businesses, it is up to individuals to protect themselves and others, he said, pointing to the 32 people on ventilators as evidence of the continued threat.
Phoebe has seen the number of COVID-19 patients decline from a high of more than 160 to about 52 prior to running out of rapid tests, Dr. Steven Kitchen, Phoebe’s chief medical officer, said. Since those supplies ran out, the hospital has seen the number of patients who have tested positive and those who are presumed to have the disease increase again to 82 over the weekend.
Phoebe has been selected as one of eight hospitals in the state authorized to prescribe the drug remdesivir, Kitchen said. The antiviral medication has shown promise in reducing the course of the disease and potentially increasing patients’ chance of survival.
On Tuesday there were 61 Covid-19 patients at Phoebe in Albany and 21 at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center.