COVID, Sept. 22, 2021

MOULTRIE, Ga. —  Local officials say new cases of COVID-19 in Colquitt County have shown a significant decline over the last few weeks, but the caseload remains dangerously high.

Statistics from the Georgia Department of Public Health show Colquitt County confirmed only 10 new cases of the disease Tuesday, the most recent day represented on the DPH website, That’s not even the low point for the week — only one case was confirmed Sunday.

A graph on the DPH website shows a sharp decline in the seven-day average from a high point of 46.1 new cases per day on Sept. 3 to Tuesday’s 15.1 new cases per day.

All of that is unquestionably good news, said Dr. Charles Ruis, director of the Southwest Georgia Public Health District, which oversees Colquitt and 13 other counties. However, Colquitt County still had 288 new cases over the last two weeks, according to the DPH data.

“That’s still a high rate of transmission for the virus,” Ruis said during a Zoom call with community leaders Wednesday afternoon.

Others on the Zoom call had more good news:

• “We had two floors of COVID (patients),” Colquitt Regional Medical Center President and CEO Jim Matney said. “We’re now down to one floor of COVID.” He was grateful for the reduction. “The staff needed a break,” he said.

• Dr. Matthew Clifton said the hospital currently has 18 COVID in-patients, the lowest number in the last 45 days.

• Colquitt County School Superintendent Ben Wiggins said the number of cases in the school system continues to decline. A weekly update posted to the school system’s website shows 55 new student cases and 11 new staff cases in the week ending Sept. 17. That’s the lowest total since the current school year began Aug. 9.

• County Administrator Chas Cannon said there are currently no cases of COVID at the county jail or county prison. “I hope I’m not jinxing us by saying this,” he said.

• Tonya Boseman, director of the Colquitt County Health Department, said the number of people seeking COVID tests at the Health Department or at the Mako Medical site on Park Avenue has dramatically declined. Only 16 people were tested at the Health Department on Tuesday, she said.

The biggest concern expressed during the Zoom call was the same as the previous week: How will the community implement vaccine mandates imposed by President Biden?

On Aug. 18, the president issued the first of two COVID vaccine mandates. It affects only long-term care facilities, and it will require them to ensure their staff is either vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested weekly for the disease. Failure to do so will result in loss of Medicaid and Medicare funding. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is still crafting the exact rule the nursing homes will be required to follow, but it is expected soon.

On Sept. 9, Biden issued his second order, which affects a variety of businesses, including those with more than 100 employees. Local officials are still waiting for details on how this order will be implemented. If it is implemented the way the nursing home rule is expected to be — anyone not vaccinated must submit to a weekly COVID test — officials expect it to involve thousands of employees in Colquitt County alone.

 Matney said he has 576 unvaccinated employees at Colquitt Regional, so he asked Ruis if the Department of Public Health would be helping him to get enough tests for them — or if would it help other companies get their employees tested.

Ruis responded that based on a phone call he had with other health directors across the state on Tuesday, there are no plans for the DPH to be involved in those matters, although they are prepared to connect businesses with groups that do those tests for a fee.

Matney then asked who would bear that cost — the employer, the employee or someone else. No one on the call had the answer.

Matney acknowledged that the State of Georgia was protesting Biden’s second mandate, and he said it was possible the state could win — but 70% of Colquitt Regional’s income comes from federal sources like Medicare and Medicaid. If those are jeopardized like they are with the nursing homes, he has little choice but to follow the federal rules.

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