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Update, March 18: A mobile unit is also being up at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton. Other details will be released later.
Previous story: A mobile unit is being set up at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville to assist in the response to COVID-19 in our community and local hospital officials are urging people to stay home.
The unit, which the hospital received from the Georgia Department of Public Health, will provide for about 15 to 30 treatment spaces, according to Northeast Georgia Health System director of public relations Sean Couch. There is not yet a timeline for when it will be in operation nor information about exactly how it will be used.
Hall County as of noon Tuesday had just one case of COVID-19. Numbers coming from DPH are tallied by residence of the patient. The health system is currently treating two patients at its Braselton location.
Dr. Shravan Kethireddy, NGMC medical director of critical care, said the spread of infectious diseases is measured by the doubling rates of the disease, which show the effectiveness of quarantining measures.
National recommendations advise older residents to stay at home and all people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and activities such as going to bars and restaurants.
What to do if you get sick
Call your doctor: If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.
If you are at higher risk: Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes should contact their healthcare provider early, even if their illness is mild.
If you are very ill: If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. Emergency warning signs include: Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to wake, bluish lips or face
Can NGHS test? NGHS has the ability at some locations. Call your doctor’s office or urgent care clinic first. NGHS also has an E-Visit specific to the Coronavirus at www.ngpg.org/evisit-info.
“By quarantining over the next many weeks, the fruits of that effort will be seen with a reduction in the doubling rate over the next months,” Kethireddy said. “But if we do not adhere to it, you’ll continue to see an exponential rate of rise.”
Preventing the spread of coronavirus is not the sole responsibility of people who are already infected, Kethireddy said.
“We know that the numbers of people will increase, but we want to be prepared so that people can have safe care and that we are doing it in the most sophisticated and efficient manner possible,” he said. “But I can’t stress enough that focusing on individual people that have infections is really just looking at the surface of this ... It really is not helping the community understand that their job in this is to stay at home.”
Kethireddy said quarantining can be a “double-edged sword” as people have to make difficult decisions about their jobs and deal with the financial impacts of missing work. But Hall County is in a position to slow the spread, he said.
“Unlike maybe places like Atlanta, where the density is very high, Hall County still has an opportunity to impact that doubling rate,” Kethireddy said.
Dr. Mohak Dave, chief of emergency medicine, said the hospital has not seen a large influx of patients but some are coming to the hospital with concerns and questions.
“The volumes have been steady over the last couple weeks and manageable. What we are seeing is a higher portion of ‘worried well’ who are presenting for evaluation and or testing for coronavirus,” Dave said. “Our guidance to them and to the general population is, unless you feel like you have a life-threatening emergency medical condition such as shortness of breath, high fever, uncontrolled vomiting, etcetera, you will do yourself as a patient as well as other people around you and the community better if you stay at home.”
Couch said that while the system is able to test for the virus, NGHS is prioritizing testing for patients over the age of 60, those with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, hospitalized patients, first responders, health care workers with mild signs and symptoms, and patients in illness clusters in facilities or institutions such as schools, shelters or correctional institutions.
Tests in the state are still limited. Gov. Brian Kemp said Saturday the state can process 100 per day, and he hopes to double that by the end of this week.
Dave said the hospital has contingency plans in place for an expected surge in patients, but the virus presents a challenge.
“Like any other community in the country, our concern is that in a pandemic situation, that resources will become limited,” Dave said.
Raising awareness about how to reduce the spread of the virus can help ensure the hospital has resources to treat the patients who need it most, Dave said.
Those with emergencies should not hesitate to seek medical care at any of the health system’s facilities, Couch said.
Editor in Chief Shannon Casas contributed.