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What NGHS officials are urging as students return to school
Northeast Georgia Medical Center Emergency Room.jpg
The entrance to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center Emergency Room is seen Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. - photo by Shannon Casas

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Although COVID-19 hospitalizations have been declining at the Northeast Georgia Health System after higher numbers through July and early August, people should still take precautions, especially as students go back to school, according to Dr. John Delzell.

Delzell, vice president for graduate medical education and incident commander at the health system, said previous increases can likely be attributed to the Fourth of July holiday weekend and people in the community going out more after sheltering at home.

“Between that time until about the second week of August, we were kind of bouncing around at a very high number,” Delzell said.

On Friday, Aug. 21, NGHS was treating 101 COVID-19 patients at its facilities, down from 164 on Aug. 14 and 173 on Aug. 7, according to data on the NGHS website. On Friday, Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville had 444 total occupied beds and 52 available beds. The Braselton hospital had 141 total occupied beds and three available beds.[CS1] 

But while COVID-19 hospitalizations at NGHS have declined in recent days, students returning to school brings some uncertainty to the situation, Delzell said.

“Most of those kids have been at home, and now they’re going to be mixing up a little more. We’re going to have teachers exposed to kids, kids exposed to teachers. Teachers in their schools are probably more exposed to each other than they have been,” he said. “I think the potential for some increases in cases will really potentially show up over the next two or three weeks.”

Children can still be COVID-19 spreaders, Delzell said.

“What you see with almost every respiratory virus is that children spread it. They may or may not get terribly sick from it, but they tend to not wash their hands as much, they tend to wipe their noses a lot when they get sniffly, and those are the kind of things that spread it around,” Delzell said. “… That’s how respiratory viruses in general get spread around.”

Students could spread the virus among each other and to adults who may be more vulnerable, Delzell said.

“We worry about multi-generational families, if they get exposed and they bring it home to a grandparent or even to their parents,” he said.

People should follow the same COVID-19 precautions that have been recommended throughout the pandemic, including washing hands or using hand sanitizer and wearing a mask.

“Maybe the younger, third or fourth grade and under, it could be a little harder, but as you get into the upper elementary into junior high and high school, those kids should be able to wear masks and follow some social distancing and be able to remember to wash their hands frequently,” Delzell said.

Delzell also said getting a flu shot will be especially important this year.

“Whether or not COVID and influenza interact, if people have both does that make them more at risk to die, we don’t know that yet. But what we do know is that if we don’t do a good job of immunizing our community this fall for influenza, that we’re going to have a lot of trouble, because the higher your non-immunized rate is, the more people you’re going to admit (to the hospital),” he said. “That happens every year with influenza, so now you add on all these patients with COVID and then add a bunch of new patients with influenza, the hospital is going to be really challenged to care for them.”