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A 20-bed medical unit was being snapped in place by cranes Friday as Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville continues to add beds for COVID-19 patients.
The hospital is hoping to open the temporary building May 26 on a vacant site near the North Tower, where the hospital is planning to eventually build a new emergency department.
Gov. Brian Kemp and John King, the state’s insurance commissioner, toured the unit Friday and spoke with media, saying Hall County’s cases are continuing to flatten. Kemp had highlighted the area in April as a new hot spot.
Hall County’s case total stood at 2,134 on Friday, May 15, according to data from the Department of Public Health. That number had grown by 137 cases since the week before when it stood at 1,997, which was a 516 jump from the previous week at 1,481. Dates for cases are tallied by DPH using a combination of factors depending on first positive collection date, if the date of symptom onset is invalid or missing, the date the case is reported, if the dates for symptom onset and first positive collection are missing or invalid.
COVID-19 patient numbers have been declining at the Gainesville hospital, which on Friday was treating 48 COVID-19 patients. On April 24, NGMC Gainesville was treating 74 patients with the virus.
“We are cautiously optimistic that we’re going to keep going in that direction and staying steady, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” Carol Burrell, CEO of the Northeast Georgia Health System, said Friday at a press conference outside the hospital with state leaders. “We hope, though, that we are seeing a clearing ahead.”
Burrell said NGMC locations had been at 70% to 80% capacity. NGHS has treated about 400 COVID-19 patients who have recovered and returned home, Burrell said. As of Friday, 66 NGHS patients had died from COVID-19. The health system serves Hall County and the surrounding Northeast Georgia area.
Burrell said the new unit will be used to treat noncritical COVID-19 patients.
“It also gives us more beds and staffing should we have to get creative, should the numbers start to rise again,” she said.
About 100 medical professionals will be working in the unit, which has been provided by the state and will be staffed by Jackson Healthcare, a Georgia company that has partnered with the state and provides staffing for health systems.
“When you walk in, it will feel like a hospital,” said Cindy Danner, associate chief nursing officer. “It will be completely equipped with monitors and all the equipment you would normally see in our hospital.”
“There’ll be vital sign monitoring, and electronic medical records with our computers is being installed,” she said.
Burrell said the decline in local cases could be attributed to precautions taken in the community such as social distancing.
“Our expert clinicians here at Northeast Georgia believe the recent decline in cases is definitely related to how this community has rallied and pulled together to quarantine and isolate responsibly,” she said.
Kemp, who was joined by members of Hall County’s delegation in the Georgia General Assembly, visited NGMC as his third stop Friday. He also visited Fieldale Farms’ Gainesville facility and a COVID-19 testing site at La Flor de Jalisco on Atlanta Highway.
Kemp thanked the “good people of Gainesville” for their efforts to educate about the virus and prevent the spread.
“You’re the ones who have helped stop the spread. You’re the ones who have made sure that your hospital did not get overrun,” he said. “I just want to urge you to keep it up, continue to do all these things, and it will be a day soon where this hospital only has one new COVID patient, or hopefully none.”
A local task force has been working to educate about the virus, particularly within Hall’s Latino community. The group organized Friday’s testing event.
Kemp said the virus had become both a public health issue and an economic one.
“We now are fighting two wars. We are fighting the war against COVID-19 and we are fighting the war to roepen our economy,” he said. “We have to do both.”
Kemp’s visit to Gainesville Friday included lunch at The Collegiate Grill downtown, where he said he saw “hard-working small business people taking innovative action to open their business in a responsible way.”
“It was so gratifying to see those that were waiting patiently on the sidewalk, social distancing, as they placed their order and picked up their meal,” Kemp said.
Kemp said he would encourage people in Hall County to continue taking precautions.
“Thank you for what you’ve been doing. Thank you for your response. Thank you for heeding the advice of our public health officials and paying attention to the situation at the hospital and in the business community,” he said. “... Keep doing what you’re doing. All these things are working.”
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said the medical unit’s construction is “a testament to the strength and resilience and the insight the hospital had in order to initiate this.”
Times reporter Jeff Gill contributed.