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COVID-19 cases flattening in Hall, but no time for complacency says NGHS doctor
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A Northeast Georgia Medical Center employee prepares to enter a patient room in the hospital's mobile COVID-19 unit on Oct. 15, 2020. - photo by Thomas Hartwell

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Hall County reached 10,000 total positive COVID-19 cases this week, but a Northeast Georgia Medical System doctor says cases have actually started to level out.  

Dr. John Delzell, vice president for graduate medical education and incident commander for NGHS, said COVID-19 cases have remained relatively flat since early September.  

“We’ve really seen a flattening in the percentage of patients out in the community that are testing positive, and we’ve seen a relatively flat number of cases of COVID that are having to be hospitalized, and that’s been going on really since the beginning of September, so about six weeks now,” he said. “We’ve been very happy with that.” 

Delzell added that while the flattening of cases is certainly a positive, they have not been going noticeably down. The same has been true for hospitalizations, which have stayed around 70 to 90 at a time at NGHS over the last six weeks, according to Delzell.  

He said that he believes the curve has begun to flatten because people have started to take precautionary measures, such as wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing, a little more seriously.  

“What we’ve seen is people are taking the social distancing guidelines and the masks maybe a little more seriously now than they were earlier in the year,” Delzell said. “I think people are really trying to limit their opportunities for exposure. They’re not traveling extensively. They’re not having big parties and gatherings and that kind of thing. I’m hoping a lot of that is having a positive impact.” 

Delzell went on to say that even though cases have started to flatten out, it is not time for local residents to get complacent. Hall County is still fifth among Georgia counties in COVID-19 cases, behind Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb, and the quickly approaching winter could cause things to get worse, both locally and nationally.  

He said that while much is still unknown regarding how colder weather will affect COVID-19 trends, numbers on similar viruses suggest cases could start increasing as the seasons change. 

“We know we see that with influenza,” Delzell said. “And a lot of people, just because of the similarities in the virus and other COVID viruses in the past that have followed that, expect it probably will.” 

Delzell did have some positive news on the treatment front, where a combination of steroids and remdesivir – an antiviral drug – have shown promising results. A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that “patients who received remdesivir were found to be more likely than those who received placebo to have clinical improvement at day 15,” and the median recovery time for those dosed with remdesivir was 10 days, as opposed to 15 days for patients given a placebo.  

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A "COVID +" sign hangs on the door of a patient room in Northeast Georgia Medical Center's mobile COVID-19 unit on Oct. 15, 2020. - photo by Thomas Hartwell

Delzell said NGHS doctors have had similar results, noting that the earlier patients are treated with remdesivir, the less likely they are to develop more serious symptoms.   

"We know that it decreases their risk for actually having to go into the ICU and decreases their risk of being put on a ventilator,” he said. “What we’ve found in our hospital is those patients that end up on the ventilator are the ones that really do poorly and are at much higher risk of dying. I think what we’ve seen with the earlier remdesivir is that’s been keeping that from happening frequently, which has been good for our patients.” 

Delzell added that while the drug was in “tight supply” earlier in the year, access to remdesivir is no longer an issue, and the health system has plenty to treat all the patients who need it. 

“As the number of cases overall across the state has gone down, the supply we have available has been better,” he said. “We’ve really, I think, have felt like the state has managed that well and been really supportive of the way they’ve done that.” 

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Northeast Georgia Medical Center's mobile COVID-19 unit on Oct. 15, 2020 - photo by Thomas Hartwell