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Governor says Hall County should continue ‘hunkering down’ but COVID-19 cases now flattening
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A site at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center is prepared May 12, 2020, for construction of a temporary unit near the North Patient Tower. - photo by Scott Rogers

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Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday that Hall County is now seeing a flattening of COVID-19 cases after the area was flagged as a hot spot. 

In April, Kemp said Hall cases were increasing while other parts of the state were declining. 

At a May 12 press conference at the state Capitol, he said John King, the state’s insurance commissioner, and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, had worked with community members and local officials to address the spread in Gainesville and Hall County, particularly with the area’s Latino community. He said the state’s work addressing other hot spots informed the work in Hall.

“It was a fairly contained environment, and so really through those processes and that work that we had done dealing with the Albany situation and other places like Upson County and Carrollton and the Rome and Cartersville area, we were able to jump on that very quickly, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

Kemp said King had another visit to Hall planned for Friday, May 15.

Kemp and Toomey both emphasized residents should continue following the recommendations of health officials, including social distancing and wearing masks when proper distancing is difficult.

“We’ve got to keep hunkering down up there,” Kemp said. “... We have to continue focusing on areas like that, or if we have any other areas that pop up. I think we’re at a great place to do that now because of the hospital bed capacity, the number of ventilators we have.”

Dave Palmer, a spokesman for the local Department of Public Health, said contact tracing and educating the public has helped slow the spread.

"Utilizing contact tracing we call all individuals who test positive to discuss how to self-isolate and share steps to take to prevent the spread of the virus," Palmer said in an email. "Contact tracing also allows us to identify their contacts quickly and reach out to them with prevention messages and determine if they need to self-quarantine. In addition, we also contact all persons with negative tests — allowing us to discuss prevention methods with them.  The more we share prevention strategies, the better equipped the community is to avoid infection."

The health system reported Tuesday it was treating 112 confirmed positive patients at its four hospitals and New Horizons Limestone, a long-term care facility. The system was treating 135 patients a week ago.

NGHS spokesman Sean Couch said hospital officials are “cautiously optimistic.”

Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville had 61 COVID-19 patients, and NGMC Braselton had 17 COVID-19 patients Tuesday. 

Couch said intensive care units in Gainesville and Braselton were at about 70% capacity. Northeast Georgia Health System reported Tuesday that 44% of the health system’s 108 ventilators were in use.

The system had projected to reach staffing capacity May 22, but Couch said officials are revising that this week and now feel comfortable removing that date from the health system’s website, based on the amount of help coming from the state.

A temporary unit provided by the state is tentatively set to be operational May 20.

The 20-bed unit, which will be located near the North Tower of NGMC Gainesville and provide medical surgical beds, will be staffed by Jackson Healthcare, a Georgia company that has partnered with the state and helps health systems with staffing needs. 

Jackson Healthcare plans to provide about 100 health care professionals, including nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and emergency medical technicians, for the unit.

Editor in Chief Shannon Casas contributed.