COVID graphic

Graphics from the Georgia Department of Public Health's website, https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report, show a surge in COVID-19 cases in Colquitt County as well as elsewhere in Georgia.

MOULTRIE, Ga. — The current surge of COVID-19 has hit Colquitt Regional Medical Center hard.

In a Zoom call with other local leaders Wednesday morning, hospital President and CEO Jim Matney said the hospital has about 80 employees out with COVID. The hospital employs about 1,300 people, but only a portion of those work directly with patients. 

The staffing situation was serious enough on Monday that the hospital shut down its third floor because it couldn’t staff it, Matney said.

Colquitt Regional is officially a 99-bed hospital, but third floor accounted for 15 of those beds, a hospital spokeswoman said in an email interview after the call. As of Wednesday afternoon, the hospital had 84 beds available for patients and 78 of them were occupied.

Matney said the hospital is following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say a person who tests positive for COVID-19 but has no symptoms must isolate for five days, but if symptoms don’t begin during that time, he or she can return to work. That means those 80 workers are each out for a week, even if they aren’t showing symptoms — and if they do show symptoms, it can stretch to 10 days in isolation.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday detailed how he was deploying National Guard soldiers to help at COVID-19 testing sites and hospitals. Kemp said he will send 96 soldiers to help with 16 testing sites in seven public health districts and the state Public Health Department warehouse. He said another 102 personnel will be assigned to 11 hospitals in metro Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Gainesville, Macon, Warner Robins and Thomaston.

When asked about the deployment, Matney said Colquitt Regional doesn’t need the troops; it needs skilled health care workers.

Scarce tests

Also in Wednesday’s call, both Matney and Tonya Bozeman, director of the Colquitt County Health Department, expressed concerns about scarce COVID tests and treatments.

Bozeman said the health department tested about 90 people on Tuesday, of whom about 40 tested positive for COVID-19.

“We will test until we run out of test kits,” she said. “And that could be soon, unfortunately.”

Colquitt Regional Medical Center announced Tuesday that it would no longer use rapid tests in its emergency room. The tests provide results in about 15 minutes.

 Matney said on Wednesday’s call that the hospital is doing 300-400 tests per day and had only 800 rapid tests left at that time. Therefore, those tests are being reserved for in-patients and surgical patients.

The hospital cannot turn anyone away from the emergency department, Matney said, so it will have COVID tests available for anyone who comes there to get one — but they’ll be tests that have to be sent to a separate lab to process, which will take about a day to get results. And the hospital will pass the $200 lab fee on to the patient.

Instead, Matney urged anyone who needs a COVID test to go to a site operated by Mako Medical under contract with the Southwest Public Health District, a division of the state Department of Public Health. The free tests are conducted 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday at the former Colquitt County High School, 1800 Park Ave., across from Walmart.

Bozeman said the Mako site tested 148 people last week, followed by 112 on Monday and 95 on Tuesday, but unlike both the hospital and Colquitt County Health Department, the Mako site is not low on test kits at all, she said.

The hospital’s COVID hotline has been directing callers to the Mako site for weeks. In response to a request made during the Zoom call, the Colquitt County School System agreed to share the message over the Remind system it uses to communicate with employees and parents.

But the tests aren’t the only things in short supply.

Scarce treatments

Matthew Clifton, Colquitt Regional’s vice president for auxiliary services, said during Wednesday’s call that the hospital had only 40 antibody infusions, a treatment that proved very effective against earlier variants of the coronavirus. The omicron variant is far less responsive to them anyway, Clifton said, but there is a version of the infusion that’s more effective than others; the hospital only has enough of this version to treat five patients.

“We’ve got enough to do five patients,” Matney said, “but we’ve got 15 in the hospital.”

Infusions are being held for the “sickest of the sick,” hospital Marketing Director Emily Watson said. 

“The only way to get an infusion is through the emergency department,” Watson said, “and there’s no guarantee you’ll get it even then.”

Similarly, while two oral antiviral treatments have been approved by the FDA, none of them have been distributed to sites in Colquitt, Tift or Thomas counties, Clifton said.

“There’s supposed to be one small pharmacy in Lowndes that got them,” he said.

Matney said the federal and state governments have distributed all of those treatments in accordance with where the need was greatest, but those decisions appear to be based on old data. 

The map on the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website shows caseload relative to population on a map of the state. A week ago, the area around Metro Atlanta was dark red, indicating a large caseload, but most of the rest of the state was in light orange, yellow or even white, all signifying smaller caseloads. Therefore, treatments and test kits were sent to Atlanta but not Southwest Georgia.

A week later, the state overall is much darker and Colquitt County stands out as a very dark red spot in the southwest part of the state.

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