By Andy Miller
Georgia Health News
Georgia health officials Tuesday reported an increase of 78 COVID-19 deaths from the day before.
That’s the largest single-day rise in deaths since 78 were reported May 21, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
Meanwhile, the disease continues to strain the resources of Georgia hospitals, though the total number of COVID patients hospitalized fell in the past day.
As of Tuesday at 6 p.m., three hospitals were on “total diversion’’ – Piedmont Newton Hospital in Covington, Appling Healthcare in Baxley, and Wayne Memorial Hospital in Jesup.
Others reported ICU/critical care “saturation,’’ including major facilities such as Piedmont Hospital Atlanta, Emory University Hospital, and Atlanta Medical Center.
Much of the squeeze on bed capacity is linked to COVID-19, hospital officials say.
On Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration signed a deal with a North Carolina-based company, Mako Medical, to beef up the state’s testing capacity.
“With some Georgians waiting well over a week for their results, the status quo is unacceptable,’’ Kemp said in a statement. “This new partnership will not only expand the number of tests the state is able to administer, but also greatly reduce the turnaround time of those tests.’’
A May article in a Raleigh newspaper, though, disclosed that Mako Medical had made questionable claims about testing capabilities for COVID-19 “immunity.’’
The News & Observer also reported that the CEO of the company, Chad Price, and family members contributed a total of $26,400 to Geoff Duncan in Duncan’s successful 2018 campaign for Georgia lieutenant governor.
A spokeswoman for Duncan said Tuesday that the lieutenant governor has nothing to do with COVID-19 testing. That’s handled by Gov. Kemp and the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, and is “not in our office’s purview,’’ said the spokeswoman, Macy McFall.
Company blames error in wording
An increase in demand for COVID-19 testing has brought long waits for appointments across the state. And to compound the problem, the delay in getting results in Georgia has often dragged on past seven days.
That hampers the ability to isolate an individual to prevent spread of the virus, and perform contact tracing to identify others possibly infected.
The state’s new partnership with Raleigh-based Mako Medical is expected to provide testing supplies and services to process 10,000 COVID tests per day. Kemp’s office said the partnership with Mako will provide test results within 48 hours, on average.
A spokeswoman for the company told GHN in an email that since April 2020, Mako Medical “has processed more than 400,000 COVID-19 tests in 20 states. 98% of the time we have delivered results within 48 hours. Part of our success can be attributed to our logistics team which is made up of military veterans.’’
The Raleigh News & Observer reported in May that as Mako Medical closed in on a big opportunity to test state employees for the coronavirus, the lab company claimed on social media and in its dealings with a state official that it was close to developing a test to determine if someone was immune to the disease.
The company later admitted the claims were a mistake.
“In regards to a social post in April, our social media consulting firm should have said a test for ‘antibodies’ instead of using the word ‘immune,’ ” Josh Arant, the company’s chief operating officer, said in an emailed statement on May 5. “It was an honest mistake in what is an ever-evolving understanding of COVID-19.”
In general, a positive antibody test is presumed to mean a person has been infected with COVID-19. But the CDC says it doesn’t have enough information yet to say whether someone will definitely be immune and protected from reinfection if they have antibodies to the virus.
The News & Observer also reported that Price, his business associates and relatives made political contributions of tens of thousands of dollars since 2015. Those include $26,400 to Duncan.
Part of those contributions were made on behalf of Price’s sister Jessica, the newspaper reported. Jessica has a disability and lives at Price’s home.
Federal law and laws in all of the states in which Price made contributions in his sister’s name — Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia — prohibit giving in the name of another, the newspaper reported. The penalty for violations of those laws typically range from a low-level felony to a misdemeanor.
Chad Price confirmed in a phone interview with The News & Observer that he made the contributions on behalf of his sister, who he acknowledged has no income.
Price said candidates’ campaigns advised him it was OK to give that way. Price said he had not intended to mislead anyone.
“It’s not like I was trying to hide it,” Price said in a phone interview with the newspaper. “I thought it was perfectly fine. I’m her advocate in every other area of her life.”
He blamed the campaigns for putting incorrect information in their election reports such as his sister working for Mako and listing his home as the address for several others who gave.
“The campaigns are the ones that put the addresses in,” he said. “They do all the campaign finance reports and they put all the information in.”
A spokeswoman for Duncan, Macy McFall, told GHN on Tuesday that “all campaign finance laws were followed’’ by the Duncan campaign in 2018. She said Duncan had no knowledge of any possible campaign violation.
Hospital capacity issues
Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health, said Tuesday’s increase in deaths is partly influenced by delays in reporting.
“It’s two-fold,” she said. “Yes, some of those are because of very low reporting over the weekend and some older ones. However, we’ve seen increased cases and hospitalizations (more serious illness) over the past few weeks, so that is leading to increases in deaths.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Georgia have surged past the 3,100 mark, putting a strain on hospitals’ staffing and resources.
Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville was set to open its new mobile medical unit Tuesday as COVID-19 patient numbers doubled in recent weeks, the Gainesville Times reported.
In Albany, which was Georgia’s epicenter of COVID-19 in March and April, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital reported Monday that there was a continuing increase in coronavirus patients.
Emory Healthcare said Tuesday it’s seeing a continued surge in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
“We are 71 percent higher than our prior peak of April 14 and have experienced a 375 percent increase in the past month,’’ said a spokeswoman, Shannon McCaffrey.
“Emory Healthcare continues to assess and update our capacity status based upon this surge in demand. To ensure we can care for all patients, we are carefully monitoring our personal protective equipment, supplies and staffing needs.’’
Piedmont Healthcare, which has hospitals in Atlanta and elsewhere with ICU/CCU saturation, said the majority of patients in Piedmont hospitals are being treated for planned and routine visits, major surgeries, and labor and delivery.
“We also treat patients that come in for unplanned emergencies, including an increasing number of COVID-19 patients,’’ said spokesman John Manasso. “Therefore, demand for our services fluctuates, while our resources and staffing are stable, which frequently results in diversions. When the Emergency Department and inpatient beds fill up, EMS providers are instructed to take patients requiring a bed elsewhere. Importantly, we continue to treat patients on an outpatient basis at our EDs [Emergency Departments], even when we may be on diversion.’’