Joint statement from Northwest Georgia healthcare facilities and Public Health urging action to help us with COVID-19 crisis.
The following statement was shared Friday afternoon, less than a day after area healthcare leaders presented details about how critical the delta variant spike is in our community and what it is doing to their combined campuses and staff. It reads as follows:
We need your help like never before. The pandemic—its current surge driven by the highly
transmissible Delta variant—continues to spread throughout Northwest Georgia and is quickly becoming
a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Most new cases, hospitalizations and people in our critical care units on
ventilators and advanced oxygen support are unvaccinated.
Today, only 35 percent of citizens in Northwest Georgia are fully vaccinated, leaving the unvaccinated highly
vulnerable to contracting and spreading COVID-19.
While a few municipalities have declared a state of emergency, if you look across the regional health care
landscape, there is no mistaking that we are experiencing a public health crisis.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased dramatically and are straining our hospitals. Deaths, which can lag
hospitalizations by a few weeks, are increasing significantly, leaving families broken and torn apart and frontline
workers physically and emotionally exhausted.
Breakthrough infections—fully vaccinated individuals becoming infected—do happen but most cases are
relatively mild. Studies of over 4.5 million fully vaccinated Georgians show that the fully vaccinated are at low risk
of becoming infected and at almost no risk of being hospitalized or dying.
Cases and hospitalizations among school-aged children have increased to levels not yet seen in the pandemic.
We are seeing the highest number of weekly outbreaks in our schools since the pandemic began. This is
preventable because many in this group are eligible for vaccination.
Individuals only seeking COVID-19 testing should not go to hospital emergency departments or call EMS unless
experiencing urgent or emergent symptoms such as severe respiratory distress, stroke symptoms, trauma, etc.
Please help us keep our hospital emergency departments open so we can treat medical emergencies.
COVID-19 testing is currently available at different sites across Northwest Georgia. Information about these
facilities, including address and hours of operation, can be found at www.DPH.Georgia.gov and
www.NGHD.org. Testing is also available at most urgent care, primary care and pharmacy locations.
Let’s work together to stop the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19. We strongly urge everyone age 12 and
older to get vaccinated, wear a mask in public settings where social distancing is not possible and wash their
hands frequently. The vaccines work. They are safe and they prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death.
If you haven’t been vaccinated, please protect yourself, your loved ones and your community by doing so.
COVID-19 vaccination is our best tool for reducing the overwhelming strain on our health care system, health
care providers and EMS personnel. To find a vaccination location, visit www.Vaccines.gov.
The letter is signed by Dr. Gary Voccio and Dr. Zachary Taylor, Georgia Department of Public Health; CEO Mike Murrill, AdventHealth Southeast Region, CEO Kurt Stuenkel
of Floyd Health System; CEO Jeff Myers of Hamilton Medical Center, CEO Kenna Stock of Harbin Clinic; CEO Chris Mosley of Piedmont Cartersville Medical Center; and CEO
John Quinlivan of Redmond Regional Medical Center, CEO
Overview: Area health leaders were asked to brief the community as well as Rome City and Floyd County commissioners on the status of the delta variant surge in our community. The joint meeting, held Thursday afternoon in the City Auditorium, became more of a state of local healthcare as hospitals, clinics, doctors offices and test sites are overwhelmed by the surge in cases. Floyd has recorded 1,709 new cases in the two weeks ending Thursday afternoon.
The healthcare leaders did not hold back and delivered stunning details on what the hospitals, clinics and public health are enduring. The critical points:
- Our healthcare system is exploding with COVID cases. Easily 90% or more of those needing treatment are not vaccinated.
- Healthcare workers are tired and morale is dreadful. There’s also some push back among workers about getting vaccinated and some of those who have not had shots are out on sick leave after having been exposed to someone who has the virus.
- Workforce drain: Retirements have hurt since the first wave but also some private medical groups are hiring teams of nurses and others are incredible wages, further depleting those available to care for the surge in patients.
- Super spreader: Dr. Gary Voccio wasted no time, when asked by City Commissioner Bonny Askew, about events such as First Friday (Town Green tomorrow). “Super spreader” is what Voccio called, sweeping in football games as well.
- We’ve not yet reached the peak from this strain and even when we do, the death count will climb for another two to four weeks as it sometimes takes COVID that long to claim victims.
- The next wave: As vicious as the delta variant is, several chief medical officers likewise fear the next wave — and the one after that.
- The meeting lasted an hour with the medical leaders doing most of the talking while Mayor Craig McDaniel served as a moderator of sorts. Four city commissioners presented questions to the medical panel; there were none from the county commissioners attending.
- What’s next: McDaniel said it might be the next city meeting, Sept. 13, before some action is taken.
Notes from the Facebook Live telecast:
Main table: Julie Barnes, Chief medical officer, Redmond Regional; Dr. Ed McBride, CMO, Harbin Clinic; Dr. Ken Jones, CMO, Floyd Medical Center; and Dr. Gary Voccio, director, Northwest Region, Georgia Department of Public Health join the commissions. Also at the table: Rome Mayor Craig McDaniel and County Commission Chair Wright Bagby.
Barnes on Redmond’s status: “We are very, very close to where we were in January”.. the difference this time staffing .. unfortunately lost a lot of our talented nurses (and other staff)… some retired, some have joined more lucrative healthcare ventures… losing seven to eight nurses… well over 100% of capacity in two key areas… most patients are unvaccinated…Oxygen is critically short…. has asked surgeons to delay elective surgeries for now.
McBride from Harbin: Says almost all physicians are vaccinated at this point… Not all staff is vaccinated… 30 to 50% staff out, including exposure of some workers who are unvaccinated to those who may have COVID….Morale is low partly because of some in the community relying on web “updates” rather than medical advice…Pulmonary doctors are assigned to the hospitals because of the surge which means delays of office visits/care… A long way away from a peak as deaths will occur even after cases start to drop, perhaps two to four weeks later… he stresses losses, including the 13-year-old Coosa High eighth-grader to a disease a vaccine can prevent… criticizes people taking treatment creative for farm animals… warns that if COVID has not touched you at this point, it will in coming weeks… Says death isn’t the only issue with COVID; survivors are now coming forward with long-term kidney and lung issues from the first waves…
Jones from Floyd: 126 patients in FMC with COVID on Thursday; previous peak was 103. .. Highest so far 133… 57 ICU patients…. 9% of the 126 patients had the vaccine… 57 employees out with COVID; using 69 for-hire healthcare workers … 28 deaths from COVID at Floyd in August.
Voccio from Public Health: Positivity rate tests are now 25 to 30%, an “enormous” rate… Vaccination rate is extremely low… “Vaccines are the way we’re going to get out of this.”… He also is concerned about the next variants, not just Delta… Says vaccines will keep you from getting acutely ill — and dying… like McBride, also concerned about long-term COVID — fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches… compares that to brief side effects of the vaccines… Also says average age of COVID patients is now 40; was 55 in earlier waves…. “I implore people to get vaccinations.”
McDaniel, Rome mayor: Don’t forsee any action from Thursday’s meeting; that would come later…. Believes all city commissioners are vaccinated… blames social media for people’s hesitancy in getting the vaccine… also cites political division… “Facebook physicians” as he calls them…
Bagby, Floyd commission: Wants information on what needs to be done next.
City Commissioner Mark Cochran: Wants to know about children and COVID.
- Voccio says region is seeing 2% of cases with children vs. none in earlier waves — and now has doubled to 4%…. One child hospitalized here now…
- Cochran: What do you see in the next eight weeks?
- Voccio hopes to see vaccinations of children.. says he fears more children will be hospitalized as data keeps doubling
- Cochran: recommendations for schools?
- Voccio: Masks and all other steps as they can’t be vaccinated right now…. says no local schools are testing even though CARES money funds it. “None of the schools have taken that on yet.”
McDaniel: Acknowledges educational leaders attending: Rome Superintendent Lou Byars; Floyd Superintendent Glenn White; Darlington Head of School Brent Bell.
City Commissioner Randy Quick: Thanks healthcare workers.
City Commissioner Wendy Davis: Asks about medical groups endorsing vaccinations…
- McBride: Tells of active clinical trials under way with the vaccines and millions of patients across the country… says vaccine is overwhelmingly proven to be successful… Says community was doing pretty well last summer and then Delta hit — rapidly and harshly… “Vaccine is your ticket to getting back to normal.”
- Davis tells of an accident that injured her four years ago — but says she was wearing a seat belt. Without it, “very likely I would have died.” Compares the vaccine to seat belts and child seats. It should be automatic, she says.
City Commissioner Bonny Askew: Says there were 200 kids in downtown when he was there… that a Tweet went out and many of them gathered at one spot — none of them wearing masks… Says First Friday is this Friday. Last event was “shoulder to shoulder and very few people were wearing a mask.” He asks the medical for advice.
- Voccio: “No doubt in my mind” it will be a super spreader event.. . just unavoidable .. says the same about football games…. First Friday: Says he won’t attend … affirms again it will be a super spreader event.
City Commissioner Jim Bojo: How many of your people (healtchare workers) aren’t vaccinated.
- McBride: 69% are fully vaccinated (at Harbin)… right at 30% unvaccinated.
- Barnes: Around 60% are vaccinated at Redmond.
- Jones: Around 50% are not vaccinated.
- Bojo asks for age group breakdown from Voccio.
- Voccio: Ages under 50 are in the teens when it comes to vaccination rates.
- Bojo asks for patient census — county by county. That data is not available.
- Barnes: Says they’ve been asked about taking in patients from outside the market but says they can’t because they’re already swamped with locals.
City Commission Jamie Doss: “Sense of urgency to get the vaccine.”
McDaniel: “… please get vaccinated.”
Meeting adjourns at 5:59 p.m.