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NGHS changing COVID testing, visitation policies
COVID-19 test
This undated file photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC's laboratory test kit for the coronavirus. - photo by Associated Press

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A quick glance at the Northeast Georgia Health System’s COVID-19 data would lead you to believe that cases are spiking again in the region. But there’s more to the story behind those numbers.

NGHS’ seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 positive tests was 14.56% Tuesday, May 11, which would be the highest rate since Feb. 7.

Part of the reason is a change implemented April 26 about testing people coming into the hospital.

Dr. John Delzell, the NGHS incident commander, said the health system shifted from testing all asymptomatic patients upon admission to only testing asymptomatic patients who are being placed in semi-private rooms.

“Instead of testing every patient scheduled for a surgery or procedure, we no longer screen asymptomatic, fully vaccinated patients,” Delzell said. 

Delzell added that patients are required to provide proof of getting the vaccine. Fully vaccinated is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as two weeks after receiving both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson version.

Delzell said the change came after the health system had four consecutive weeks, which is two incubation periods, with a positivity rate at or below 5% which indicated “low community transmission.”

NGHS’ positive rate was 5.39% on March 23 and hovered at or below there until April 22.

“We will continue to monitor and adjust these recommendations as needed, based on the average community positivity rates,” Delzell said. “We will continue to adjust as we watch the positivity rate and get more data regarding vaccine immunity and its effectiveness against variants.”

Delzell said they believe the increase in the past two weeks is more about the change in denominator, which is the number of people being tested. According to the Department of Public Health, the seven-day average of Hall County positive tests has hovered between 4-6% over the past month.

“Now, we’re testing mostly people that are symptomatic, so you would expect the percentage of those people that would be positive to be a little higher,” Delzell said.

On the same day as the testing change, the hospital also altered the facility visitation guidelines which increased the amount of time available.

Back in March, NGHS changed its visitation policy to allow two identified support people at all times in labor and delivery for non-COVID patients.

In the intensive care unit, two visitors are allowed for non-COVID patients at a time between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Long-term care facilities and the NGHS transitional care unit still do not allow visitors.

Delzell said they will likely look again at conditions toward the end of this month to possibly open up visitation further.

“Ultimately, our goal is to get back to open access to where the people can come at whatever time of the days works best for them to see their family members,” Delzell said.

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