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COVID numbers jump by 40 at NGHS, with New Horizons Limestone making up almost half the spike
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Northeast Georgia Health System has set up cots in a gym at its Laurelwood facility Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, as the system sees a new record of COVID-19 patients and is running out of space. - photo by Scott Rogers

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Northeast Georgia Health System hit a new record Dec. 11 of 261 confirmed COVID-19 positive patients across its facilities, a 40-patient jump from the previous day. 

The facilities seeing increases were the Gainesville hospital, the Braselton hospital and New Horizons Limestone, a long-term care facility whose numbers made up almost half the spike Friday.

About half of the residents at New Horizons Limestone have tested positive, 41 of the 83 residents in its Friday census, said NGHS director of long-term care Kerry Smith. The number of COVID positives reported at the facility the day before was 24.

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When the health system started hitting new records almost daily, Department of Public Health officials said they were concerned that the Thanksgiving holiday could “amplify the transmission within the community,” particularly with family gatherings. That concern was one shared by Smith and others in the long-term care field.

“I can’t tell you exactly where it came from, but we’ve had quite a few numbers of positive staff members and positive residents that have come up over Thanksgiving,” Smith said.

Smith said they have additional staff members tasked with wiping down high-contact areas daily. Residents stay mostly in their rooms with no communal dining or group activities, Smith said.

According to the NGHS data, there were 39 available beds across the health system. There were 23 available beds at the Gainesville hospital, two beds available at the Braselton campus and 14 beds at the Lumpkin facility.

As the numbers continued to climb, the hospital set up an overflow treatment space in the Laurelwood gym. About 25 to 30 cots will become available as early as next week.

New Horizons Limestone has a COVID-19 unit, so residents who test positive go there until it is safe for them to move back to their original room.

Those exhibiting symptoms must get a negative test result before leaving the unit.

“When you walk in there, you wouldn’t necessarily notice that it’s any different than being in the other side of the facility,” Smith said.

Because of that unit, positive patients at New Horizons Limestone would not affect the bed capacity unless their condition worsens to the point where they need hospitalization, Smith said.

Smith said that has been uncommon, estimating less than 10% of their long-term patients need such care.

Looking toward the near future and the Christmas holiday, Smith said they have plans in place to expand the COVID unit if needed. NGHS officials have continued recommending people wear masks in public and avoid large gatherings.

“We talk regularly in the facility about when you go out in public, make sure you’re protecting yourself,” Smith said.

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