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COVID-19 hospitalizations expected to surpass January record at NGHS
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Northeast Georgia Medical Center staff work in the COVID critical care unit of the Gainesville hospital Friday, March 12, 2021. - photo by Scott Rogers

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By early September, there may be more people in Georgia hospitals with COVID-19 than at any point so far in the pandemic, according to a model referenced by the Northeast Georgia Health System.

“What it shows for Georgia overall is the peak that’s a little bigger than the one we had in January for the entire state for hospitalizations,” Dr. John Delzell, the health system’s incident commander,  said Friday, Aug. 13. Delzell said the model, which comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, is predicting that peak about Sept 3.

Delzell said it is hard to know what this will mean for Hall County, as NGHS officials must extrapolate from the statewide data to assess what regional impacts may be felt.

The previous peak locally at NGHS was 355 COVID-positive patients on Jan. 8 across all of the health system’s facilities. The system treats patients across Northeast Georgia, with its largest hospital located in Gainesville. On Friday, NGHS had 183 confirmed COVID-positive patients with another 28 patients awaiting test results.

“The worrisome thing from our standpoint is if you look at the state vaccination rate, it’s actually higher than our local region and the counties that we serve for the health care system,” Delzell said. “Our worry is that if this is the model for all of Georgia and we have a lower vaccination rate than Georgia does overall, that could disproportionately affect us.”

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health vaccine dashboard, 48% of Georgians have at least one dose of the vaccine with 41% fully vaccinated. In Hall County, 42% of residents have one dose and 37% are fully vaccinated.

Delzell said the model has been one of the models tracked by NGHS since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It’s been useful because it gives state-specific modeling, which is helpful for us,” he said. “Going back all the way back to March and April of last year, it’s been very consistent with what we’ve had. In fact, it’s predicted the peak pretty, pretty well in each of the three prior surges.”

Delzell emphasized it’s not too late to get vaccinated, as he believes there’s more “availability than there is desire from people out in the community.”

“If you look at people that are in the (intensive care unit) — and those are the ones that are the highest risk of dying — almost all of those are unvaccinated,” Delzell said. “There’s a fairly small number of people that have been vaccinated that are getting hospitalized and there’s an even smaller number who require treatment in the ICU.”

According to NGHS’ data Friday, 93% of COVID patients in critical care are unvaccinated.

The mass vaccination site at the University of North Georgia closed on July 30. After that date, people needing their second dose or both doses can go to the Hall County Health Department, among other providers.

District 2 Public Health spokeswoman Natasha Young said Hall County was averaging roughly 30-40 vaccinations per day, which was roughly the same as when the UNG site was operating.

At the department, people are allowed to choose their vaccine type of the three available — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — though Young said Pfizer is administered more frequently.

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