COVID vaccine

Cheau Williams, MD, FACOG, FACS, Colquitt Regional Chief of Staff, is pictured receiving his COVID-19 vaccine from Toni Leigh Bullard, RN, CEN.

MOULTRIE, Ga. — Following the recent announcement that people 65 and older and first responders will soon be included in Phase 1A of Georgia’s COVID Vaccine Plan, both the Southwest Health District and Colquitt Regional Medical Center are making preparations to expand access to the vaccine.

The health district began making appointments Monday and will begin administering the vaccine next Monday, Jan. 11. Those who qualify can schedule an appointment through the public health call center at (229) 352-6567.

The first round of vaccinations went to health care workers and to residents of long-term care facilities. The health district, based in Albany, received 10,800 doses for its 14 county health departments. As of Monday morning, it had administered 1,056 of those. 

Of the 1,200 doses allocated to Colquitt County, 49 had been administered.

Those numbers seem small, but the health district’s public information officer, Karen Snyder, pointed out that medical facilities (such as Colquitt Regional Medical Center) received their own shipments of the vaccine, and in many cases the health care workers who qualified for the first round of vaccinations would get them through the facility they work at.

That’s generally what Colquitt Regional Medical Center is experiencing, a hospital spokeswoman said.

“Our first shipment of vaccines arrived on Dec. 17,” said hospital communications coordinator Jordan Hammack. “Since then, we have vaccinated approximately 95 percent of our medical staff and 35 percent of our employees. This week will begin the second round of vaccines for those who received the first round on Dec. 17.”

Hammack acknowledged some employees’ reluctance to take the vaccine.

“However, 95 percent of our medical staff has been vaccinated, which signifies that our physicians have confidence in this vaccine and its effectiveness,” she said. “Although the vaccine is not mandatory, our administration and medical staff have highly encouraged their coworkers and patients to receive it, when it becomes available to them. A key component of our internal rollout is education. We have provided our employees with facts and statistics on the vaccine to assure them that it is safe to take and that this is one of the best ways they can safeguard themselves, their families, and their patients against COVID-19.”

Like the health department, the hospital will soon be expanding the people they are trying to vaccinate.

“This week we will be opening up vaccinations to law enforcement, after receiving permission last week from Gov. Kemp to reallocate this group from Phase 1B to 1A,” Hammack said. “We will be holding a test run of our drive-through vaccine clinic soon for a small group of patients who are 65 years or older. This drive-through clinic will be the main site for vaccinations through the hospital and Sterling Physician Group clinics for the public and patients. We anticipate making vaccinations available to members of the public who are 65 years or older next week. We will continue updating the COVID-19 page on our website and social media with location, hours, and other relevant information regarding the availability of vaccines.”

Hammack said they’ve received positive responses from employees who’ve taken the vaccine. A few have had minor side effects, such as fever, body aches and chills, but none required medical attention, she said.

“As with any vaccination, a small number of individuals may experience some side effects as a normal part of the vaccination process,” she said. “This is a sign that your body is building your protection from the virus.”

Visitation policy

In other coronavirus news, Colquitt Regional Medical Center recently announced changes to its visitation policy in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases across the nation, the state and locally. The notice was posted on the hospital’s website, https://colquittregional.com/covid-19.

Visiting hours are set at 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.

All patients, visitors and employees are required to wear a mask at all times. They will be screened prior to entering the facility.

No visitors under the age of 18 (including siblings) are allowed in the obstetrics department.

Non-essential vendors are not allowed in the facility.

The cafeteria, grille and gift shop are closed to the public.

No flowers, gifts or balloons will be allowed in the ICU or COVID Zone areas.

  • Outpatients may have one support person accompany them. Other visitors will be asked to check in/out at the Visitors Lobby Entrance (west side entrance) to obtain a Visitors Pass to access inpatient areas.
  • In the Emergency Department, patients with non-COVID symptoms may be accompanied by one visitor. Similarly, patients coming in for outpatient services or same-day surgery may be accompanied by one visitor.

In Obstetrics, the expecting mother may be accompanied by one support person while in labor and delivery. No visitation is allowed during the 2-4 p.m. snuggle and snooze time except for that one support person. No siblings are being allowed at this time.

Patients on the non-COVID floors or non-COVID ICU may have only one visitor to visit during their entire hospitalization stay during normal visiting hours. No overnight guests without the director’s approval.

No visitation is being allowed in COVID zones without the director’s approval. Extended-stay patients will have visitation Mondays 1-3 p.m. and Thursdays 3-5 p.m.

“We appreciate your support and patience as we work to protect our patients, visitors and community,” the hospital’s notice reads. “Please know all decisions are made with safety as our top priority and modifications will be made to the visitation policy as appropriate.”

Repeat testing

In a second email on Sunday, the Southwest Public Health District encouraged employers to stop requiring employees to have a negative COVID test to return to work after isolation.

“The Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Public Health remind employers that once a COVID case is confirmed with a test, repeat testing is not necessary for the following 90 days unless the patient develops new COVID symptoms,” the email reads.

Most people can come out of isolation when they meet the following criteria:

  • • Have isolated 10 days after testing or symptom onset, whichever is first.
  • • Have had no fever for 24 hours without taking fever reducing meds.
  • • Symptoms have improved.

Once the time requirement has been met and isolation ends, if the person feels well enough, he or she should then be allowed to return to work, the health district said.

“Severe COVID cases are considered non-contagious after day 20,” the press release said. “These are generally people who have had low levels of oxygen or who have required hospitalization. The vast majority of COVID cases are less than severe and are considered non-contagious after the 10th day has passed beyond symptom onset. Asymptomatic cases are considered non-contagious when 10 days have passed since the date of the first positive test.”

One reason not to require a COVID survivor to test negative before returning to work is that genetic material from the virus may linger in the nasal passages for months after the virus has been killed by the immune system, the health district said. 

“This genetic material is no more than debris and is not harmful, but it can cause artificial positive test results,” the press release said.

Repeat testing of asymptomatic COVID survivors during the 90 days following the onset of infection causes financial hardships on people who are unnecessarily prohibited from work, wastes valuable resources such as clinical staff and laboratory materials, and causes a delay in collecting specimens and obtaining results for patients who actually need testing.

“CDC guidance has evolved, and it will continue to evolve,” the health district said. 

Up-to-date information can be obtained 24 hours a day at the Southwest Health District website at southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org, Facebook at facebook.com/SWGAPublicHealth, the Georgia COVID Information Line at 1-888-357-0169, and the Georgia Department of Public Health website dph.ga.gov

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