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‘It’s still here. It’s not going away.’ Hospital, families describe ongoing struggle with COVID-19
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Jennifer Santana's home in Buford has experienced an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus with six of the 12 residents testing positive. - photo by Scott Rogers

A week after her oldest daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, Jennifer Santana and four other members of her family received a positive test. 

The Buford family has been quarantining for more than three weeks, and Santana said returning to work might not happen until the middle of August. 

“We went to get tested and it came out we were all negative. We didn’t think anything of it. Give or take about a week later after testing, like half of us came out positive,” she said. 

That included Santana, her husband, two of her daughters and a daughter-in-law. 

Santana described three days of more serious symptoms of high fever, nausea, back pain, trouble breathing and muscle pain that gradually faded. 

Quarantining has meant everybody staying in their rooms and only coming out with masks on, but the time away from work has caused strain on their finances and food.  

Santana said they were lucky to have some money saved but were thankful for a recent food drop-off facilitated by Hispanic Alliance GA. 

“I don’t know what we would have done,” she said. 

Vanesa Sarazua, executive director of Hispanic Alliance GA, discussed another man who had been in the hospital for months. 

"He unfortunately has fallen behind on his rent, has fallen behind on his utilities, has lost his car, so we see those consequences of being sick and afflicted with this illness and how it has a long-term effect really on families and on poverty,” she said. “It really sets them back. Even if after they're able to recover, it'll take a while for them to be able to go back to work and have a normal life." 

Sarazua said they served 550 families in a food drive-thru Saturday, July 11. They have also served anywhere from 30 to 75 families a week with food boxes being dropped off to families either sick, quarantining or without transportation. 

"Now, pretty much it's more a reality for a lot of people where they know someone who has been sick, either in their family or at work or their friends. It's a more of a reality, and they see the seriousness of it a little bit more in our community,” Sarazua said. 

A question-and-answer session with Dr. Antonio Rios had roughly 3,000 views on Facebook Live, the third installment of conversations with health officials for the community. 

Rios, chief physician executive for Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, said the questions have been: When will the vaccine be available? What does the antibody test mean? Are masks helpful?  

"What we're telling people is don't get your hopes too high on the antibody test, because it may mean you had it, but it may not be an insurance for you to just ignore all of our measures. We're still trying to message heavily to social distance, to wear masks, to wash hands, to avoid going to gatherings and things like that,” Rios said. 

Northeast Georgia Health System provided data in April showing 49% of COVID-19 cases from Hall County are Latino. In April, 30% of cases were identified as Latino across the entire NGHS service area. 

Hall County Breakdown of Positive Cases 

49% - Hispanic/Latino 

35% - White/Caucasian 

10% - Other/Unknown 

5% - African American/Black 

Source: NGHS 


Service Area Breakdown of Positive Cases 

31% - Hispanic/Latino 

47% - White/Caucasian 

16% - Other/Unknown 

6% - African American/Black 

Source: NGHS 

Those numbers have not moved in three months. Data provided Tuesday, July 14, had 49% of Hall County’s cases being Latino and 31% across the entire NGHS service area. 

According to 2019 census estimates, 29% of Hall County is considered Latino. 

Rios said he felt that the testing facilities have been “saturated” to the point where there is a delayed turnover in getting results. 

"It's still here. It's not going away. You need to be really careful,” Rios said. 

In terms of recent trends, Rios said there has been an increase in those 18-40 who have been hospitalized. 

The Times previously reported on how the poultry industry was tackling the best ways to prevent spread of the virus through various safety measures 

"What we've seen is that the poultry industry is no longer a common denominator, and there hasn't been a single industry right now that really is highlighted as to where patients are working,” Rios said. 

Between Thursday, July 16, and Friday, July 17, the number of patients in the intensive care unit jumped from 16 to 31. The number of confirmed COVID-19 positive patients being treated also rose from 88 Thursday to 106 on Friday. 

The hospital has not had more than 100 confirmed patients being treated since May 14, according to its online data. 

With the opening of schools around the corner, Sarazua said she feels there will be a need for masks, hand sanitizer and other supplies. 


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Jennifer Santana's home in Buford has experienced an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus with six of the 12 residents testing positive. - photo by Scott Rogers